Real World Soul
With their 1996 release “Stakes Is High”, De La Soul provided a informative spin on “keepin’ it real”. In a world where “keepin’ it real” too often meant striking hard-core poses of ghetto-authenticity, De La instead presented worldview where keepin’ it real was more about things like doing the laundry, paying the mortgage, and getting shorties to school on-time. Call these the simple dramas of everyday life—the one’s that get lived on the regular, but never seem to get represented in Viacom-land or plantation radio (shout out to the Family Stand). And it is just these everyday dramas—tiny pleasures really—that make Surrender to Love the debut release from the wife and husband team Kindred the Family Soul such a joy. Drawing on the legacy of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Aja Graydon and Fatin Dantzler give the world a glimpse at their passions, pleasures, and predicaments.
Kindred the Family Soul is yet another entity from the Philadelphia soul scene that has produced artists such Jill Scott, Bilal, Musiq, the Roots, the Jazzy Fatnastees, Viktir Duplaix, and producers Andre Harris, Vidal Davis, King Britt, James Poyser, who all have a hand in Surrender to Love’s production. The recording’s emphasis on soul family values is re-inforced by some of the photographs contained inside the CD booklet where Aja is pictured waking their youngest child Aquil, the couple is seen folding laundry (the scene humorously described as “the date”) and Fatin washes dishes (“foreplay”). Surrender to Love is a soundtrack to the everyday lives of everyday folk, who happen to have the gift of song and a willingness to share their love with the world. The spirit is perhaps best captured by the lead single “Rhythm of Life” where the couple sings in the song’s chorus “Loving you is a dance / The rhythm of life / And if there’s a chance / I want you ‘till I die”.
Virtually all of the disc’s 15 tracks were co-written by the duo. Aja is the stronger vocalist between the two, so most of the songs are driven by her, but Fatin’s voice is distinct—a plaintive tenor that falls somewhere in between the styles of Montell Jordan and the aforementioned Nick Ashford. The title track is one of those stepper-set head-nodders that simply celebrates the very idea of being in love as the duo chants insistently “surrender to love, ‘cause love is the only way”. Philly comrade Ursula Rucker joins in the love-fest on “We” which is musically inspired by the sounds of Baltimore natives Fertile Ground (themselves inspired by the music of Doug Carn—“Arise and Shine”). As if they truly believed that their love affair, musical partnership, and shared parenting gig were the last bastions against increasing divorce rate, rampant individualism, and two-generations of latch-key kids, the duo joyously sings “We is a beautiful thing / You and me is a beautiful thing”.
Given the continuous drama of contemporary American life, one could be easily cynical about folks who seriously believe in the pursuit of the “beautiful life”, but the simple brilliance of Surrender To Love is that the duo is honest about when the drama encroaches upon those small sensuous moments. There is just something so real and so raw (and so sweet) listening to Fatin rant against his near-sexless marriage (“Tired of . . . not getting no ass / Unless the baby’s sleep”), urban life (“Tired of crooked cops / Tired of black folks complaining / That crime don’t stop”), and the techno-bureaucratic nuisances of everyday life (“Tired of paying taxes / Sending e-mail and faxes”) as he does on the track “Far Away”. One of the best tracks on the disc, the song is one of those humorous “Calgon, take me away” moments as the couple dream of going to a “place where lovers go” and doing the things that “lovers do”.
One of the reasons why the love of the duo comes through so strongly throughout Surrender to Love is that both Aja and Fatin have a clear sense of themselves as individuals. On the track “I Am”, Aja comfortably sings “I look in the mirror / I see my power / My ability / But no matter what I see / My eyes can’t tell me what I already know / I am best at what I am”. But that sense of self never overtakes the sense of “we-ness” that the couple celebrates. On the disc’s best track “Stars”, produced by Vidal Davis and Andre Harris, Kindred the Family Soul stridently assert “We trusted love / We took the risk / We ran our one pace / We won our race”. With a musical nod to the Isley’s version of “Summer Breeze”, Fatin and Aja are more than convincing as they sing in the song’s chorus “We come so far / The stars look at you baby / My heart belongs / Right here next to you”.
Other standout tracks on Surrender to Love include the breezy “Contentment”, “If I” (which takes a riff from Mandrill’s “Holiday”), and King Britt’s dancefloor remix of “Rhythm of Life”. Surrender to Love may not be the best soul/R&B recording released this year, but as soul simulacrum becomes the order of the day, there is not likely to be one that is as meaningful to the everyday realities of its listeners.