D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah Review

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D'Angelo and the Vanguard: <i>Black Messiah</i> Review

At midnight on Dec. 15, 14 years dissolved. One key-stroke, and the mythic follow-up to D’Angelo’s Voodoo could be yours. Luxurious, raw, crashed-up, silky, a funky collage of sounds and grooves, Black Messiah takes listeners ever deeper into the dozen songs with repeated listening.

More heartening than the hodgepodge of elements and seeming precision of their interweaving is the social consciousness rising. Yes, D’Angelo, that glorious objet d’amour, has not eschewed his romantic bent, but with the exhortative-sample, wah-wah guitar-slither collapsing into writhing moans on “1000 Deaths,” the drum-rolling phased vocal delight “Til It’s Done (Tutu)” and the elegantly moody “The Charade” with its wailing chorus “all we wanted was a chance to talk/ ‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk…” his desire to expand higher societal awareness dominates.

Evoking Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On and Prince’s Sign O’ The Times, as well as P-Funk, Sun Ra, Band of Gypsys-era Hendrix, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and The Temptations and The O’Jays at their most fraught, D’Angelo brings intent. Citing uprisings in Ferguson and Egypt and the Occupy movement in the liner notes, D’Angelo seeks to empower those reaching for equity beyond color and economics.

Also declaring in the liners the all-analog recording of real hands on real instruments, Messiah churns the “old school” in ways that bristle with vitality, yet are as fresh and urgent as anything on radio.

Solid collaborators help. Though the credits suggest like Prince and Todd Rundgren, D’Angelo could have made this record on his own, he enlisted A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, The Roots’ Questlove and bassist Pino Palladino—providing a looseness that transcends studio perfection.

Fourteen years is a long time. Devotees are aware of the personal issues which have plagued the artist and delayed the album; each passing year suggests a lessening of what might be hoped for. To his credit, D’Angelo didn’t attempt to “supercede” what he’s built, but rather develop the nitty gritty gospel/soul/jazz/hip-hop bindings of his nu-funk excavations.

Whether evoking The Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow” on Messiah’s closing “Another Life” or joking about the weight gain/addiction struggles in “Back To The Future (Part One),” he offsets the heaviness of his ultimate intention with sweetness and humor. A string quartet and whispered Spanish intimacies fall into a gut-string flamenco guitar on “Really Love,” as erotic as it is romantic.

D’Angelo knows—literally and metaphorically—love is ultimately the way. He is not seeking to be anyone’s Black Messiah, but rather hopes to awaken him inside all who hear his songs.