Less than a year after the stellar Umsindo, the pioneering free soul singer and rapper returns with yet another entry in her eye-opening career.
On June 28th of last year, Georgia Anne Muldrow and her husband, fellow Madlib associate Dudley Perkins, dropped a duo of albums that went largely unnoticed in critical and especially popular circles. It was a real shame considering Muldrow's high-profile work and influence on recent Erykah Badu and Mos Def projects, but those who caught wind of Umsindo found one of the year's great highlights and an immediate contemporary to Badu's first New Amerykah record and Dudley's Holy Smokes. Entirely produced by Muldrow, the disc revealed how funky and George Clinton-indebted much of her current aesthetic is.
Luckily, Muldrow's back with another full-length less than a year later, and she shows no signs of slowing down creatively. Muldrow's brand of free-form soul continues to evolve. Dudley Perkins believes this is Muldrow's most pop effort yet, and with songs like "Doobie Down", "Summer Love", and "Can't Stand Your Love", it's easy to see why. Her choruses there are infectious and simple compared to her usual rhetoric-laden theses. But don't start thinking Muldrow is grasping for pop audiences, because no pop star would put a strong stance like the one on "Simple Advice" so early in their record. The first portion of the track slowly builds on a refrain of "Take it from me / You don't want to be / Who you don't need to be" and a funky background. Halfway in, the album breaks into Muldrow rapping about education and mainstream media, eventually paraphrasing Good Will Hunting -- "Regurgitating books that you read / Gotta be your own book, follow your own lead".
Most likely Umsindo will better satisfy listeners' political urges, though. Kings Ballad is more of a personal album. The title track, along with many of the songs in this collection, was penned in the wake of Michael Jackson's death, and it powerfully conveys her interpretations of fame, love, and music. This particular song might be grating to some ears, but its money shot consists of a long, ambling piano riff during the chorus that is sure to bring plenty of first-time listeners to their knees as Muldrow and the song's ever present organ take the song to church. Elsewhere, "Summer Love", a duet with Dudley Perkins, is probably her most fun and radio-ready song to date, while "To the Stage" and "Life" address Muldrow's concerns with being in the public eye and maintaining a reasonable life by her standards.
"Thrones" is probably the song that best relates Muldrow's fuel early. "Custom-built snares, not really built for entertainment", she claims early, later rapping "The commentaries are too few / Most of the world more worried 'bout a club to go to". I'm as big a fan of ign'ant club music as most hip-hop fans, but it's becoming a little taxing how purely focused on disposable entertainment much of the culture has become. "Thatches" comes near the end and summarizes her musical stance both here and on Umsindo: "This place creates shameless diversions / The reclamation of the soul / Making strange the new black". It's a high energy record that sounds like few songs out there, its chaos perfectly complementing Muldrow's fears for the youth.
Some people are probably going to hear Muldrow as preachy, but the more likely scenario is that she'll end up preaching to the choir as always, rather than getting her much deserved due respect commercially and critically. There are also quite a few instrumental interludes here, as is Georgia's wont, and they each serve as an insight into her creative process more than detours. Kings Ballad is a fantastic album that might sound a little disjointed at first, but after keeping this in constant rotation since receiving it in mid-January, I can safely say this is a satisfying follow-up to Umsindo. Kings Ballad doesn't have quite as many killer tracks, but it may ultimately be a more entertaining experience. Please, world, start paying attention.