Joshua Noteboom (yes, that really is his name) made a few ripples on the international scene about a year and a half ago with the track “Contemplation”; the dreamy vocals and ambient washes made it as at home in chill-out rooms as the mammoth pulse of its fat drums suited it to winding down or slow dancing out in the more eclectic dance music clubs. As Julie Walehwa exhales “You’ve gotta open up your miiiiind…” everyone within earshot instantly relaxes and feels right at home. It’s not rocket science, but it’s done with more than enough care and panache to make that totally irrelevant if you’re in the right mood. Included here about half way through the album’s ten songs, “Contemplation” doesn’t really stand out, although its effortlessness continues to impress and soothe. This more or less sums up everything, good and bad, that I have to say about Narrow Path.
Leaving the music aside for a moment, the presentation of the album warrants a word or two. Narrow Path comes with a DVD as standard, which includes the album in 5.1 Surround Sound, little graphical vignettes for each track, and a short video giving us a glimpse of Josh One’s daily routine. Whilst the latter fails to illuminate anything significant, (Josh likes recovering from sleepless recording nights by sitting in a cafe, looking dazed, and soaking up the Cali sun, shopping, hanging out with his MC friends, and getting busy in the studio, where the plaque he got for producing Nappy Roots is pretty prominent), the general care and attention to detail is as present here as it is in the music, and puts most major record labels to abject shame. As an added bonus you get the album as mp3s, along with the majority of the tracks as instrumentals - a welcome addition in these rip-and-carry times. I will admit however that putting low quality (128kpbs) mp3s on an audio DVD strikes me as a little like including a handy-cam version of a film on a movie DVD, i.e. strangely counter-productive. And of course being a DJ I’m going to bitch about the lack of a cappelas. Truly, we are never satisfied.
The moral connotations of its title not withstanding, Narrow Path packs quite a wide range of styles into its post-sunset elegance, whilst remaining more lush than louche. Female vocals of almost child-like fragility (by Lili de la Mora, who might be the Bay area jailbait fix for those despairing of Bjork’s current tendency to play harp with her own nostril hairs) are once more wedded to a massive break-beat on my favorite cut on the album, “Day Dreamer”. Yet on the instrumental “Grey Skies” or “After Hours”, St. Germain’s landmark looped-jazz is resurrected with serene live band swagger, and “Midnight Samba” might have escaped from a Keep It Unreal session. The closing title cut builds through simple guitar strumming and another slow, thumping break into a string blown vista that evokes the overblown grandeur of Creed at their worst, but evades that fate by being subtle and restrained enough to pull back from any dramatic clim-axe work, content just to drift in reverie.
As regards the MCing featured on several tracks. it’s never less than competent, but not memorable, tending to be of the conscious-but-slightly-unimaginative/ineffective kind that have ensured the victory of the more vivid, if technically embarrassing, gangsta MC in the mainstream. But you’ll get the music’s message just fine anyhow: life is beautiful, so just chill out and be nice to people. Hey, so it’s as edgy as a blancmange hippo, it’s still the right idea. Should I be giving you the desperate urge to run to your record store for this album? Nah. Would your days be a little calmer, more enjoyable and more softly textured if you did? Indubitably. Chalk another one up for the good guys.