D’ANGELO-VOODOO.

D’ANGELO-VOODOO.

Today I have decided to write about a singer who, in a twenty year career, has only released to solo albums, yet has been compared to soul legend Marvin Gaye, and Prince. This artist is much more than a singer, he is a highly talented multi-instrumentalist, song writer and producer. The two albums he has produced have gone platinum in the US, the album this article is about reached number one, firmly establishing his credentials as one of the best artists of his generation. The album is Voodoo by D’Angelo, released in January 2000.

D’Angelo was born Michael Eugene Archer in February 1974, in Richmond, Virginia. He was born into a deeply religious Pentecostal family. His father was a preacher, and he later described his mother as a “powerful” woman. It was during his childhood that his musical talents became apparent. Aged three, the young D’Angelo picked out a tune on a piano in the family home, much to the amazement of his elder brother. Later in his childhood, he would play the Hammond organ at his father’s church.

It was 1991, when D’Angelo first came to the attention of the music industry. He signed a publishing deal with EMI Music. D’Angelo had sent a demo tape to the company which caught their attention. This resulted in him signing this contract. The first success he had was when one of the songs he wrote, U Will Know, was included on the Jason’s Lyric soundtrack. Not long after that, Gary Harris signed him to EMI Records, and he began writing and recording his debut album.

D’Angelo’s debut album Brown Sugar was released in June 1995. To begin with, the album sold slowly, then it was boosted by a single taken from the album, Lady. This reached number ten in the Billboard Hot 100, and after this, sales of the album took off. Brown Sugar is thought to have sold between 1.5 million and 2 million copies.

Unlike many artists, D’Angelo did not seek to release another album to build on the success of Brown Sugar. Instead, he took four and a half years off from the music business. During this sabbatical period, he sung tracks for soundtracks. He also sang on Lauryn Hill’s debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill duetting on the track Nothing Even Matters.

Finally, in January 2000, his second album, which this article is about, Voodoo was released. Straight away, the album was a huge success. It entered the US album charts at number one. Voodoo has been described as experimental and containing a sound that is almost a groove based funk. Within the album are several lyrical themes. These include spirituality, sexuality, love, growth and fatherhood. The latter, may be because D’Angelo had married Angie Stone and the couple’s son had just been born during his sabbatical. Two singles were released from the album. Left and Right which featured both Method Man and Redman was a success, but the second single outsold and outstripped Left and Right. Untitled (How Does It Feel) was D’Angelo’s tribute to Prince, and became a huge hit, further establishing his neo-soul credentials. So well received was Voodoo, it was nominated for two Grammy Awards, Best Male R&B Performance and Best R&B Album. The album won a Grammy for Best R&B Album and the album was included in all of major music magazines end of year polls. Like Brown Sugar, the album reached Platinum status in the US, selling in excess of 1.7 million copies.

After the success of Voodoo, D’Angelo decided to have another sabbatical. Since the release of Voodoo, he has not released another studio album. His only work has been collaborating with other artists. He has appeared on Common’s 2007 album, Finding Forever on the track So Far To Go, and albums by J Dilla and Red Hot and Riot. Apart from that, and a few unfinished tracks that have been leaked onto the internet, musical sightings of D’Angelo have been rare.

June 2008 saw the release of D’Angelo’s greatest hits album, entitled The Best So Far. This album contained songs from Brown Sugar and Voodoo, as well as some rarities. A second disc contained some videos which had never before been released. The Best So Far only reached number seventy in the US album charts and number thirty-three in the US R&B Charts.

Since the release of The Best So Far, rumors have been rife about D’Angelo’s next album. It is thought to be entitled James River, and speculation has surrounded if, and when, it will be released, and what guest artists may collaborate with D’Angelo on the album. Only time will tell if the album is released in 2011.

Now that you know more about D’Angelo’s career, I will you tell you why Voodoo is such a great album. I remember awaiting eagerly the release of Voodoo, and the first time I listened to this album. It had been a long wait from Brown Sugar, and when I put the album on and listened to the first track Playa Playa I was hooked. The track begins with muffled voices and background noises, but quickly opens out into a laid back slice of jazz influenced neo-soul. A brass section plays a funky groove to accompany D’Angelo’s vocal on this spacious, almost subdued track. Playa Playa is very much a slow burner, it takes a while to get going, and when it does, it’s a great track, one where you can hear various influences shine through. One I hear on this track is Sly Stone, this groove based track, reminds me of something Stone would produce with Sly and the Family Stone. This track is a good way to open Voodoo, and all bodes well for the rest of the album.

Devil’s Pie sees the tempo and quality increase. This is one of the best tracks on the album. There are two overriding musical influences on this track, funk and hip hop. Crunching drums sit right at the front of the mix, with D’Angelo singing just behind them. Drums, scratches and use of samples, all have a hip hop influence. The rhythm that can be heard throughout the track has a real funky feel. This fusion of influences and styles, produces a great track, one that features some powerful lyrics, with biting social comment, about the problems faced in 21st century America. Voodoo may have taken a long time to make, so far, it well worth the wait.

On the next track D’Angelo is joined by two big hitters from the hip hop world. Method Man and Redman. This trio combine to produce a good track Left and Right. Like other tracks on Voodoo, Left and Right is about sex and sexuality. Read or listen closely to the lyrics, and you will discover that D’Angelo and Co. are not particularly subtle in their wooing of women. Smalltalk and foreplay are definitely on the agenda. If you are a committed feminist you may disapprove of some of the lyrics. However, saying that it is a good track, which the trio perform well. It is much slower than Devil’s Pie, and is very much a groove based track. There is space within the drum beats, which the vocals fill. The three vocals compliment each other well, and produce a good track, albeit one with some dubious lyrics.

The Line is a better track than Left and Right. On The Line, you can hear a Marvin Gaye influence in D’Angelo’s vocal. This is one of his best vocal performances on Voodoo. His vocal is strong and clear, and highlights the lyrics. The tempo is slow, the track has space to breath and the arrangement is one of the best on the album. It has a minimalist feel and sound. A great track, one of his best tracks, not just on Voodoo, but in his career.

Send It On sees the tempo increase, and the style change. This track has a lovely jazzy feel to it. The arrangement sees a brass section accompany D’Angelo, and he sings around them. As usual, the drums are loud and prominent in the mix, however, the neither overpower the vocal, nor the rest of the arrangement. Here, D’Angelo sounds like Prince, and the song has the seem romantic and sensuous sound to it. Send It On, like The Line, sees D’Angelo at the top of game, producing some of the greatest music of his career.

On Chicken Grease, the tempo really falls, almost to a pedestrian pace. Here the drums are really crisp and crunchy, some vocals sit far back in the mix, and sound a bit muddy. They could benefit from sitting further forward. The track has groove, it is rhythmic. Drums, handclaps and D’Angelo’s vocal are the best things about the track. However, overall, the track is not of the quality of tracks like Devil’s Pie, The Line and Send It On. I have always felt that this track could be improved, there is potential in the track that is not realized. It has almost an unfinished feel to it.

One Mo Gin starts slowly, and has a moody and atmospheric sound and feel to it. The first minute, you wonder where the track is going. Then the drums and vocal enter the track. D’Angelo’s vocal is good, the drums crisp and loud, and this slightly lightens the sound of the track. Throughout the track, the dark and moody sound undermines the most of the track. Then out of nowhere, towards the end of the track there is a ray of sunshine, an upbeat burst of music. Just as quickly as it appears, it disappears, and the track ends. Don’t get me wrong, One Mo Gin is not a bad track, just one that has a very different sound and feel.

The Root starts with some of the loudest and crispest drum beats so far. Thereafter, D’Angelo sings a much more upbeat vocal, one that has the same quality as on The Line. The track is about love, and how we feel when a relationship breaks up. This track benefits from some good lyrics, lyrics that D’Angelo delivers well. There is a jazzy feel to the arrangement, one that is quite laid back. A great track, a return to form, much better than Chicken Grease and One Mo Gin.

The sound and style changes vastly with Spanish Joint. The track opens with an acoustic guitar. That fools you into thinking this would be another laid back track. How wrong could you be. Quickly the sound gets big and loud. D’Angelo really uses his vocal range, and is joined by brass section, with a trumpet playing a leading role. Spanish Joint has both a jazz and funk influence, and sound. On this track, D’Angelo shows his versatility as a vocalist, arranger and producer, and has produced a good track.

On the next track, D’Angelo covers Feel Like Makin’ Love, a song that many artists have covered. He does a good job. The trademark drum sound is at the forefront of the mix, brass section, handclaps and his smooth and tender vocal, come together to make a lovely version of an often covered song. 

Greatdaymornin’/Booty sees D’Angelo return to his own material, after the interlude that was Feel Like Makin’ Love. This is much better, and sees D’Angelo give one of his best vocal performances on the album. His voice very much takes centre-stage, and is given the opportunity to shine. The rest of the arrangement is good, the drums, well programmed, keyboards, bass and guitars all play their part in making this a good song. Towards the end of Greatdaymornin’/Booty sound affects and samples can be heard, and add effect and humor to the track. 

Untitled (How Does It Feel) was the big hit single on this album in the US. Straight away you can hear why. It is a beautiful track that sees D’Angelo backed by a bigger band than on other tracks. This is a very soulful song, one that has the best arrangement on the album. As well as bass, guitar and drums, a piano and percussion can be heard. All of this, shows a different side to D’Angelo, he sounds more like a traditional soul singer. On Voodoo, he has shown different many different sides, and this is by far, the best. An absolutely outstanding track.

Voodoo closes with Africa, a track that starts slowly and gently, and meanders, vocals, drums and keyboards floating in and out of the mix. After nearly ninety seconds, the vocal makes an appearance. On Africa, D’Angelo sings quietly and gives a much more restrained vocal performance. He is very much singing within himself. The whole track has this lovely subdued and understated sound and feel to it. Africa is a good way to close Voodoo, it just brings the album quietly, gently, to a close. 

Voodoo is a long album, thirteen songs and seventy-eight minutes. Of those thirteen tracks, eleven of them are good, two Chicken Grease and One Mo Gin, are not of the same standard. Sometimes when I listen to albums that have been released since the introduction of the compact disc, I feel that artists and bands feel compelled to use every last second of the disc’s capacity. That is wrong. What you end up with, is too many second and third rate songs padding out the album. I would much rather they released their best tracks, and if the album only last forty minutes, so be it. With Voodoo the two tracks I have highlighted don’t fall into the category I am describing. All I am saying is that, on album of such high quality, like Voodoo, if a couple of tracks fall below the quality of the others, it is very noticeable. Voodoo is a great album, one I have always enjoyed since the day it was released. If you don’t own a copy, I would suggest this is one to add to your collection. It is full of romantic, sensuous music, and should come with a warning saying: “playing this music can cause additions to your family.” This is babymaking music, so be warned. Standout Tracks: The Line, Send It On, The Root and Untitled (How Does It Feel).

D’ANGELO-VOODOO.

12 Comments

  1. Downindixie

    Great review, although I have to respectfully disagree with your opinions on “Chicken Grease” and “One Mo Gin”. I thought those tracks were just as great as the others. Oh well….

    Be Blessed

    • Hi, Thanks for your comments. Voodoo is a great album and there aren’t any really poor tracks on it. One Mo Gin just sounded a bit different from other tracks on the album. Have you heard his other album Brown Sugar? It too, is a great album. If you check online, you’ll find some new tracks from D’Angelo that were released last year. I wish he’d release a new album soon. Thanks again for your comments.

      Best Wishes
      Derek Anderson.

  2. Downindixie

    Well, to be honest with you, I didn’t really love “Voodoo” when it was released. I liked it, but I didn’t love it because I was expecting “Brown Sugar” volume 2. We were all guilty of that here in the states. It was so different from Brown Sugar. You won’t believe the arguments over here about which album was better. I think it’s “Voodoo”. I heard all of the influences in that album and it still went right over my head. I here Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Prince, Marvin Gaye and everything I love about music and still didn’t appreciate it until later. His new album is 97% done. He’s starting his European tour next week so keep your fingers crossed.

    • Hi, Yes hopefully it’ll be three great albums in a row. I agree that Voodoo was the better of the two albums. I love all the music you’ve mentioned Sly, Al, Curtis, Prince and Marvin. D’Angelo is just the latest in a long line of really talented artists that goes right back 50+ years. A great album D’Angelo produced was Angie Stone’s Black Diamond. That album, and Erykah Badu’s two albums Mama’s Gun and Baduizm are all worth checking out. Thanks for your comments.
      Best Wishes,
      Derek Anderson,

  3. Downindixie

    I’ll continue to annoy you with more comments tomorrow when I have the time. Until then, be blessed.

  4. Thanks then, until then, keep listening to some great music.
    Best Wishes
    Derek Anderson.

  5. Downindixie

    I don’t know if you know about the Soulquarians, but “Mama’s Gun” was recorded by the same people in the same studio that recorded Voodoo. It’s kind of funny how “Voodoo” is finally getting the respect it deserves 12 years after the fact. I think that is making it easier for D’angelo to come back. Back then, people were only paying attention to the video for “Untitled”. It’s a long story when it comes to that video. It almost destroyed him.

  6. Hi, I didn’t know that, but I really love both albums. I’m glad that D’Angelo’s music is getting the attention and respect it deserves. He’s a really talented guy, and should be a much bigger name than he is. Did you try Angie Stone’s album Black Diamond, because that’s excellent too. Thanks for the info.
    Best Wishes,
    Derek Anderson.

  7. Downindixie

    Oh yeah, I listened to it when it was first released. “Bone 2 Pic” was my favorite track.

    When you have time, read this page. It’s a lot, but it explains everything!(“Voodoo”, the backlash from “Untitled”, the tour, the Soulquarians, the other albums associated with “Voodoo” and why he disappeared)

    Again, it’s a lot…….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voodoo_(D'Angelo_album)

  8. Hi, I must have a look at the page as I’ve followed his career carefully. Thanks for that. Keep looking at the blog, there’s new stuff posted each day. Thanks.
    Best Wishes,
    Derek Anderson.

  9. Downindixie

    Did you have a chance to look at the page yet?

    • Hi, Yes I did it’s fascinating and I was really interested to read it. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I’ve another album you might be interested in Jill Scott’s Who Is Jill Scott? (Words and Sounds Volume 1). If you like D’Angelo and Erkah Badu, then you’ll enjoy this, and of course Angie Stone. Thanks for the article. Keep reading the blog.
      Best Wishes,
      Derek Anderson.

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