Where's the real, true soul music in 2010? Look no further than Darryl Moore.
Straight up, I have to warn everyone: the first time I heard "Nuthin's Gonna Stop Us", the opening track on Where I'm At, Darryl Moore's debut album, I really hated it. I have to warn everyone because not only will the rest of the album be a shocking turn of events for those who agree with me on their initial spin, but eventually the song will grow to be considered one of many strong points on one of 2010's best R&B releases. Moore doesn't have a lot of commercial history in the music business; all of his appearances have come courtesy of Georgia Anne Muldrow and her husband Dudley Perkins. But that doesn't mean he's lacking for experience. As most of this album proves, Moore has spent more than enough time in church choirs perfecting his vocal runs and experiencing the rush of soulful performance.
His background is exposed multiple times on the album, most notably on the Sunday anthens "805 Sundaze" and "Family Funday". Not only do the songs share a similar vocal melody, but they both address the simple joys Moore finds in his experience of the Christian holy day. Both songs lay the soul on thick, recalling more than a couple of '70s masterpieces without sounding patronizing or overdedicated. Moore is smart to mix things up, though, and it's on love ballads like "DreamGirl" and "Jamie" that his Stevie Wonder influences shine through. Definitely, Wonder and Prince are the two touchstones that have become all too common in current R&B criticism, but the comparison feels especially apt here.
What might surprise fans of SomeOthaShip is that Georgia Anne Muldrow, the label's owner and flagship artist, only provides two productions here. "Long Gone", the antecedent to the album-closing title track, is a definite highlight among highlights, but for the most part the album carries a balance between throwback and future funk courtesy of Derek "DOA" Allen and Moore himself. Both credits are surprises; the Moore cuts bring to mind southern crooner Anthony Hamilton and smooth guy Musiq Soulchild, while DOA (best known for his work with Bobby Brown in the early '90s) puts Moore in D'Angelo mode. Their work makes up the entirety of the album's mid-section, and their ability to work modernity into very familiar sounds of the past is something that really keeps the album going. Plenty of quality touchstones, but also plenty of trendy sounds to reel in curious ears as well.
Of course, religion and love are not all that Moore provides, and it's the versatility throughout that really pushes Where I'm At forward. The title track reminds me of Mos Def's "Habitat", carefully politicking around the issues of growing from one environment yet growing to exist in another. "Pancakin'", meanwhile, is the album's moment of simplicity. The music is nothing to scoff at, a fantastic revival of Warren G-style funk, and when it queues up one can't help but feel relieved to get a straight up party jam. "Jamie" might be a typical 'black girl lost' tale, but it falls in line with the album, takes nothing away from it, and might even get you to feeling emotional in the right environment. There's not a weak point on Where I'm At; the only victims of this album will be those whose ears are closed to soul.
Moore lacks the traits that make SomeOthaShip's head artists, Perkins and Muldrow, inaccessible to certain fans of R&B and hip-hop. He balances street smarts and soulful gospel with grace and confidence, and has the sort of vocals that feel all too rare in today's R&B climate. One could say, "This is the guy that always reviews SomeOthaShip releases for PopMatters, and he always gives them good scores". You'd be right. But whatever you're opinion on the label's previous works, Where I'm At is a different beast. Any enthusiast of soul owes it to themselves to make Darryl Moore a major part of their summer playlists; he's not only a throwback, he's a real deal.