[27 August 2014]
“What I’ve learned / Has made me who I am.” Sigh, those sensible, well-grounded lyrics appear from the closing track on Kindred the Family Soul’s latest album, A Couple Friends. Bucking the frightening trend of so many other contemporary R&B artists, couple Aja Graydon and Fatin Dantzler eschew the recklessness of urban music, which at times has welcomed lasciviousness, an absence of romance, and references to drug use. Rather than play into the hands of that narrative, Kindred create a better script, relying on the inspiration from the past rather than present, to create a meaningful R&B LP.
“Get it, Got it” kicks the album off in energetic fashion. Remaining true to their neo-soul roots, the duo keeps things soulful, riding the dusty groove like champs. Easygoing and catchy, “Get it, Got it” sets the tone for the album. “Call Me Crazy” slows the pace slightly, opting for a smooth, mid-tempo cut. Like the opener, Aja takes the first verse, leaving the second for Fatin. Consistent, well produced, and masterfully performed, “Call Me Crazy” keeps momentum going strong, particularly on the memorable refrain: “Call me crazy, but I love it all / the ups and downs, the round and rounds … .”
“Everybody’s Hustling” continues a lush, richness about its sound. Possessing the adult R&B sound, thoughtful messaging truly stands out, as Kindred discuss the hardships of everyday people in their everyday lives. Following the more thought-provoking cut, “Lovin’ the Night” amps up the fun, sounding like an updated disco track of sorts. Quick, sharp, and slickly produced, Kindred are clearly on autopilot at this point. Fatin’s growl is mean as ever, while Aja contrasts with her silky smooth command.
“One Day Soon” continues to possess the gift of groove, adding a bit more of a contemporary flare to the sound thanks to the hyper rhythmic drum programming. Still, Aja and Fatin never drift away from what they do best – soul, soul, soul. Vocal chemistry is definitely the tale of this joint.
Title track “A Couple Friends” changes the script, clocking in at more than five minutes. The big ballad is a wise, relationship-oriented number, about the couple’s union beginning as friends. Again, its prudence is something many couples could stand to embrace. Follow up “Not Complaining” accelerates the pace and embraces more modern cues. Still, it feels thematically like a ‘continuation’, rather than its own entity.
“Never Loved You More” is refreshing, if for no other reason than its favorable outlook on love and romance. So many times, the R&B of modern times confuses love and sex or lumps both as one in the same. Kindred keep love authentic, genuine, and something glorious and worth attaining. Following the brief, ‘family-affair’ hip-hop of “Momma Said Clean Up” (featuring the couple’s kids as well as the producer’s kid), “Here We Go” embraces hip-hop cues as well. The track doesn’t alienate R&B – it’s still lush given the piano and of course the vocals. Chill Moody completes the dash of hip-hop, providing the sole collaboration of the set.
“Drop the Bomb” returns to the duo’s niche: adult contemporary R&B and neo/retro soul. It offers nothing starkly different from previous cuts styled similarly, but also remains as sound, pleasant, and enjoyable as everything else. Penultimate joint “Look at What We Made” serves as reminiscing moment for the duo, as they are thankful for their incredible lives together. The brief “What I’ve Learned” closes reflectively and inspirational in tone.
All in all, Kindred the Family Soul deliver a compelling R&B album that maintains the tried-and-true characteristics of the genre firmly afoot and planted. Never letting physical pleasure or irresponsibility convolute their message or purpose, Kindred the Family Soul keep things clean, feel-good, and highly respectable. Furthermore, Fatin and Aja don’t need to reinvent the wheel or themselves – the quality of their work speaks for itself without a hitch. A Couple Friends, hence, shines radiantly.