Tag Archives: André Harrell

Guy – Guy

Guy
Guy
June 13, 1988
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
080/100
Guy - Guy1. Groove Me // 2. Teddy’s Jam // 3. Don’t Clap… Just Dance // 4. You Can Call Me Crazy (feat. Timmy Gatling & Al B. Sure!) // 5. Piece of My Love // 6. I Like // 7. ’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love) // 8. Spend the Night // 9. Goodbye Love // 10. My Business (feat. Timmy Gatling)

Teddy’s late ’80s drum machine-‘n’-synth beats aren’t the most sophisticated instrumentals ever made and Aaron’s third rate Stevie-isms are far from original way of singing R&B music, but put them together and the resulting album is an album far funkier than it has any right to be. Guy is one of those things greater than the sum of its parts.

Guy was the brainchild of producer Teddy Riley and his childhood friend Timmy Gatling. They recruited singer Aaron Hall to join them and Guy started recording their epinomous debut album for Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records under the guidance of manager Gene Griffin who is also credited as co-producer of every track of this album. Apparently Hall and Riley didn’t get along in person despite their on-wax chemistry because right before Guy was released Gatling was so sick of their animosity he got the hell out of dodge.
It is for this reason he sings lead vocals on two of the album’s tracks and gets eight songwriting credits even though when the album dropped he was no longer officially considered a part of the group and is nowhere to be found on the album’s cover. (The guy who was called in as Gatling’s last-minute replacement for a tour Guy did with New Edition was Aaron’s brother Damion who is on the cover but did zilch in creating the music.)

Changing line-ups would be recurring thing in Teddy Riley’s performing career, especially in his second group BLACKstreet.

One thing that sets apart Guy from the other completely Riley-produced LP we had so far, Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever, is that the majority of the songs are uptempo where Sweat was mostly about slow jams.
Another thing that sets apart Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall is that Aaron has a far more fiery, gospel-infused vocal style.
Who says that New Jack Swing artists were passed through cookie cutter and were indistinct of one another? (Many music critics do.)

Guy marries soul vocal stylings with hip-hop production stylings the way no complete album had done before it. It also follows some hip-hop conventions of the time. For instance it has a DJ cut in the form of Teddy’s Jam.

Teddy  really did his thing with these lo fi synths and drum machines creating a slightly overcrowded, machanical variety of the funk. Hall, Gatling and Riley himself when he sings lead on Spend the Night are the humanising components. Back in 1988 this must’ve sounded pretty futuristic but today the vibe is mostly quaintly old school (or vintage as some would call it..).

Groove Me and ’round and ’round (Merry Go Round of Love) are the best things on here. They’re ballsy party jams that a lot of club DJs would do well to revisit.
Teddy’s Jam also fits that bill although because of it’s relative lack of vocals one might run the risk of partygoers believing they put on some backing music from a primitive video game.
Piece of My Love and Spend the Night aren’t the best New Jack Swing ballads by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re not bad and their inclusion helps prevent the monotony of nothing but pistoning dance beats that otherwise would’ve occured.

Overall Guy is a pretty good flagship release for the New Jack Swing genre, being pretty representative of its dance music side, with a few ballads thrown in for good measure.
The production, despite of (or because of) being rather dated, is pretty cool and Aaron Hall is a charismatic frontman who performs these songs with enough gusto to make up for his minor lackings as a singer. It’s too bad that short, high-quality R&B releases such as this, Make It Last Forever and In Effect Mode (among others) would soon be a thing of the past after the ascent of the CD and the possibility it created for artists to make their album’s twice as long as they could be in the vinyl/ cassette era (Guy’s 1990 sophomore album The Future is 72:02 minutes long compared to this one’s 44:42 which means as much as that a shitload of watered down, unfocused filler made the cut) but that makes one only appreciate releases like this that much more. Good stuff.

Best tracks
Groove Me
Teddy’s Jam
’round and ’round (Merry Go ’round of Love)
Piece of My Love

Recommendations
Buy this album.

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Al B. Sure! – In Effect Mode

Al B. Sure!
In Effect Mode
Uptown Records/ Warner Bros. RecordsWMG
May 3, 1988
080/100
Al B. Sure! - In Effect Mode
1. Nite and Day // 2. Oooh, This Love Is So // 3. Killing Me Softly // 4. Naturally Mine // 5. Rescue Me // 6. Off on Your Own (Girl) // 7. If I’m Not Your Lover // 8. Just a Taste of Lovin’ // 9. Noche y Dia

I wonder if it today still would be possible for an R&B singer to be on the cover of his major label album with his unabrow fully intact (not to mention that peach fuzz on his upper lip) and sell records. I guess that grooming habits have changed for men as well as women since 1988.

Al B. Sure! was the second act to release an album on Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records after making his debut appearances on Heavy D’s Living Large… in the prior year. Apparently he got his break in the music industry performing at a talent show organised by Sony Music Entertainment in 1987 where he was picked the winner by music industry legend Quincy Jones. How he went from Sony to MCA-distributed Uptown records, and then had his albums distributed through random, unaffiliated Warner Bros. is unknown to me but that is what happened.

New Jack Swing inventor Teddy Riley was supposed to produce the album wall-to-wall but after finishing two songs with Al he got called away to supply his beats to Keith Sweat’s Make It Last Forever in stead (presumably to cash a bigger cheque). The two songs he did produce were If I’m Not Your Lover and You Can Call Me Crazy. The latter didn’t make the cut of In Effect Mode but was transplanted to the 1988 epinomous debut album of Teddy Riley’s group Guy with Timmy Gatling on vocals. The same Timmy Gatling who left the group right after the first album was released. Oh the music industry trivia.
After Teddy left Al B. decided to produce the album himself with assists by his cousin Kyle West, which turnt out a fortunate turn of events since the instrumentals these two created were actually a little different from Riley’s. Sure! and West infuse their New Jack Swing quiet storm with quirky soft rock guitar riffs, percolating synths and groovy synth funk basslines, which helped Sure! create a niche of his own in the budding New Jack Swing movement. Keith Sweat was the soul man, Bobby Brown would be the bad boy, Teddy Riley was the svengali and Al B. Sure! was the romantic soft-rocker.

Nite and Day is about as graceful as an R&B ballad can get with Al’s floaty falsetto riding the atmospheric instrumental and the lyrics about ‘making love in the rain’ and ‘feeling so deep it comes within’. It is the perfect soundtrack to a romantic daydream. Actually that description fit the entirety of In Effect Mode. It’s a dreamy exercise in romanticism that’s so high above the clouds that even the earnestness of it all can’t weigh it down. Wow.
Off On Your Own (Girl) has the sort of tumbling groove you could lounge equally well to as you could dance to it and its pleading subject matter is something that’s easily relatable and Sure! turns out to do uptempo numbers just as well as he does his signature balladry.
Oooh this Love Is So manages to make something seductive out of fingersnaps, keyboards and not much more and is probably the best showcase of Sure!’s voice on this album.
The worst of the lot on here is probably the ‘hard’ sounding numbers If I’m Not Your Lover and Just a Taste of Your Lovin’ tacked on at the end, and even those are fairly decent. It’s just easy to imagine Bobby Brown doing a slightly better job at performing them. But they do contribute to the album in creating more variety.

The rest of these songs are pretty cool too. Besides a Spanish language version of Nite and Day there isn’t any filler on here and like Make It Last Forever its length of only eight tracks is a prime example of ‘less is more’, one many of today’s artists could learn a thing or two from.

In Effect Mode is a terrific R&B album. It’s got this veneer of old school romantic class over it, as though it is willing to wait until the second date to get into your pants (if you are capable of restraining yourself, that is) with a slight hint of hip-hop swagger. Also it’s short, which with albums is never a bad thing.

Best tracks
Nite and Day
Oooh This Love Is So
Off On Your Own (Girl)

Recommendations
Buy this album.


Various Artists – Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Various Artists
Uptown Is Kickin’ It
1986
Uptown Records/ MCA RecordsUMG
050/100
cover
1. Mr. Big Stuff (Heavy D & the Boyz) // 2. Why Me (Groove B. Chill) // 3. Bass Game (Finesse & Synquis) // 4. Uptown Is Kickin’ It (the Uptown Crew) // 5. I Can’t Stop (The Brothers Black) // 6. He Cuts So Fresh (Marley Marl) // 7. Stress (Woody Rock)

Like N.W.A and the Posse Uptown Is Kickin’ It is both the start of something great and an intrinsically shitty album.
Like N.W.A and the Posse it surrounds a few good acts with a bunch of embarassingly generic acts that wouldn’t be heard from ever again.

The music is alright but extremely dated ‘B-boy’ stuff.
The lyrics performed by what certainly would’ve been referred to at that time as ‘sucker MCs’ range from meh boasting and bragging (I Can’t Stop) to cringeworthily corny to obscene and corny (Why Me which is literally about soiling yourself in front of your father in law, a concept that maybe Biz Markie could’ve gotten away with, and only at that time.)

But hey, at least the Heavy D song sounds good. And him (besides Marley Marl who provides one of those old school DJ Cuts that nobody likes to hear) is the only person on here one should give a fuck about, and coicidentally the only person out of this incarnation of the ‘Uptown Posse’ to have a career. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Best track
Mr. Big Stuff
Uptown Is Kickin’ It

Recommendations
Download Mr. Big Stuff, leave the rest be. Unless you’re an Andre Harrell biographer off course.


Thicke – A Beautiful World

Thicke

A Beautiful World

15-4-2003

Nu Amerika/ Interscope/ Universal Music Group

Robin Thicke is a singer-songwriter who’s usually filed under R&B. Before and since he decided that if Justin Timberlake could have a successful solo-career as a blue eyed soul artist than he could too, goddamnit, he helped pen songs for among others Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and Usher and even a would-be hit for Michael Jackson (The Jacko song he co-wrote with adult-contemporary shtickmaster Walter Afanasieff is called Fall Again and was supposed to be featured on his 2001 album Invincible but wasn’t finished for reasons unknown to me. In 2004 a demo however was released on a MJ boxset while a less significant R&B singer from Canada named Glen Lewis recorded his version of the song and released it on the soundtrack of the Jennifer Lopez film Maid in Manhattan in 2002. If you’d like to hear Thick’s interpretation of this song. Go listen to Kenny G’s version, although off course it does off course feature the superative of cheesy sax, but that’s Kenny’s bread and butter.) Armed with these credentials and a voice that sounds like Mr. Thicke is JT’s long lost brother who shared a larynx with him at birth, he and co-producer Pro J got it cracking in the studio after André Harrell signed him to his Nu Amerika subsidiary of Insterscope. He then slabbed an artfully nude picture of his beautiul girlfriend, now wife, Paula Patton, on the album cover, just because he could. Today I will listen to that album which was actually a re-release of his 2002 album Cherry Blue Skies with a few extra songs and a different sequencing. Why Cherry Blue Skies was released, then deleted from the catalog and then re-released with a different title I don’t know. Maybe someone at Interscope Records/ Nu Amerika realized Cherries actually aren’t blue. It certainly didn’t help the album sell any copies and for my money seems like a pretty pointless move. What I do know is that Pharrell signed him to his Star Trak label a few years after this puppy tanked and left him mostly alone in the studio to craft his 2006 sophomore The Evolution of Robin Thicke. I think he made this decision mostly based on listening to A Beautiful World and that’s why I’m curious about it. Also, this was by no means a bad business move on Pharrell’s part because since signing with his label Robin had been a pretty successful artist.

1. Shooter

One difference between Justin and Thicke is that Thicke on occasion actually has a somewhat original musical idea while Justin exclusively does updates of his idols Michael Jackson and Prince while coasting along on his producers Timbaland and Pharrel’s hipness. Shooter doesn’t sound like anything in 2003’s contemporary R&B. Its hiphop influences are confined to the occasional scratching and… violent lyrics. Anyway, the guitars and keys used make this decisively retro-sounding and the build-up ending in the climactic sounds of actual gunfire give this a cinematic edge. Thicke’s vocal sounds stoned out of its mind throughout which adds to the surreal feel of it all. His distorted vocal during the breakdown sounds a lot more animated which creates a nice contrast. Shooter is interesting, fresh and a rather enjoyable affair. Thicke apparently liked the song so much he reprised it on his sophomore album The Evolution of Robin Thicke released on Pharrell’s Star Trak label in 2006. In an effort not to piss off one of the four people who had listened to A Beautiful World (those people apparently being Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and me) he asked the most en vogue rapper of the moment, Lil Wayne to add some raps where there were vocal voids in the song. No wait that’s wrong. Weezy apparently jacked Shooter wholesale for his Tha Carter II album, Thicke’s vocals included, only to add some meh verses and some ad-libs that detracted from the overall equation. With that version becoming far more popular than the original Thicke had little choice but to put it on his sophomore. Still, the solo version included on A Beautiful World is much  more compact and pleasant to listen to.

2. A Beautiful World

The sparse use of an electronic piano and little else help highlight the simple beauty of Thicke’s falsetto in a spacy, Prince-ly way. Now if it weren’t for those clunky pretentious bullshit lyrics this would be rather enjoyable.

3. Suga Mama

Songs about the opposite sex are abundant but never redundant because people will always give a fuck. (No pun intended) The instrumental is groovy enough in a Neptunes produced track taken from Justified manner. The vocal however, while technically being pretty decent, sounds so much like the purple one (especially during the falsetto bit) that this comes off as wholly unoriginal. Alas, Thicke can get lost in imitation as much as Justin. And no this does not contradict my statements made about Shooter because those comments were ment to be applied to that song only.

4. Flowers in Bloom

Spacy, scratchy sound effects, a simple guitar line mixed into the background so effectively you can barely hear it and a bit too much Justin-ishness for my taste. On a strictly musical level this doesn’t make me want to give up on listening to A Beautiful World and use it as a Frisbee in stead but it is not very exciting.

5. When I Get You Alone

The first single off A Beautiful World and the only one to chart as far as I know. Walter Murphy and his Big Apple Band discofied Ludwig von Beethoven’s 1808 Fifth Symphony and labeled it A Fifth of Beethoven, which was included on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack in ’77. Producer Ty Fyffe sampled that track for young rapper A+’s 1997 hit Enjoy Yourself and here Thicke jacks that instrumental wholesale to land his dorky lyrics in a stuttery delivery on. (I mean… “Baby girl, you’re the shit. That makes you my equivalent.” The fuck?) That line, delivered without any sense of irony whatsoever, could make even R. Kelly blush. This was the first single and as far as I know the only one that got any airplay anywhere. The fact that this wasn’t a hit in the English-speaking world doesn’t surprise me one bit. Although songs with even nerdier come-ons have made their way to the charts (like anything Katy Perry has done. Ever.)

6. The Stupid Things

I’ll give Thicke this much credit. His imitations of soul and sincerity are soulful and sincere. Even on this boring-as-fuck adult contemporary R&B-ballad.

7. I’m a Be Alright

This tries to be the indie-rock-tinged funky party song and isn’t too annoying for what it is. The song’s positive message would help this go down if the lyrics were more comprehensible. I think I heard Thicke’s slightly distorted vocal sing something about pouring champagne over himself which is a stupid thing to do. If you’re going to pour bubbly over anyone it’d better be the hottie with the black lingerie underneath the white outfit…  Anyway it’s highly likely he never said that shit in the first place. Can’t tell what he did say… Moving on.

8. Brand New Jones

The second and last single. Except for that he shouldn’t have waited until right before the fade-out before letting the horns to kick in this song isn’t half bad. The music is p-funky. The stuttery singing complete with Jacko-esque vocal tics is appropriately and adequately performed and the lyrics, unless you hear “some like to get peed on” rather than “some like to keep heat on” like some jackass commenting on this song’s youtube video did (although it wasn’t that far-fetched), aren’t too corny or R. Kelly ridiculous. Well played sir!

9. Vengas Conmigo

The mandatory gimmicky Latin-styled track of which every artist in the early 2000s included a version on their respective albums because they thought that’d give them some much needed appeal to the worldwide Hispanic community and make them sound extremely exotic to white people. This doesn’t suck or sound that out-of-place on A Beautiful World is an achievement of sorts. Still not that good a song though.

10. Flex

More blatant Prince imitating going on here. This time it’s his funk-rockier side that gets jacked.

11. Make a Baby

This reminded me of the Beatles because if it’s overly simple poppiness but since I haven’t heard a lot of the Beatles’ catalog I couldn’t tell you what period or what song this is similar to. Also there may be another artist who might make for a better comparison. Fuckit. I don’t care… I’m more of a Stones guy anyway. The hook is pretty awful but otherwise this won’t piss anoybody off.

12. She’s Gangsta

No, Thicke does not give busting rhymes a try. In stead we get another Prince rip-off  that sounds like Justin Timberlake is singing it in the vein of Flex.

13. Lazy Bones

More funkish, indie rock stuff. This style seems to suit Thicke well enough even if it is not my cup of tea.

14. Cherry Blue Skies

I fucking hate these social commentary songs. Honestly, why do these little pop stars insist on trying to change the world through their music? Even when Michael Jackson does that it pisses me off… But if I pay no asttention to the lyrics I suppose this one gets a pass.

Best songs
Shooter, Brand New Jones

Conclusions
Thicke’s A Beautiful World is too an gimmicky album by someone who isn’t a gimmicky artist per se. That he has a talent for making music cannot be denied, even by a cynical asshole such as myself. He has a nice singing voice, although one that’s very much reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s and a falsetto that at one point sounds identical to Prince’s which is both an achievement of some kind and something that prevents the songs on which he uses it from really taking off. On here he also shares with JT a tendency to write horrible corny lyrics. Really awful would be poetry that will give you nightmares. The best example of which would be When I Get You Alone’s second verse. Still, the fact that Thicke produced the entirety of this fucker with partner in crime Pro J, and doesn’t do half bad a job imitating earlier generations of soul singers (mostly Prince) is admirable. As is the fact that there’s only one song on here that sounds a lot like the Neptunes’ take on mr. Nelson Rogers, which was the flavor of the month at the time. All Thicke needs in my opinion is some original ideas and he’ll probably make some thoroughly enjoyable music. I don’t see him making a timeless classic ever but that’s not necessarily a problem. And who knows? Maybe he’ll prove me wrong. A Beautiful World doesn’t contain anything cacophonic (I’ve always thought there’s no better word for shitty sounding than cacophonic!) so that’s nice. And I definitely will get at The Evolution of Robin Thicke in the near future.

Recommendations

If you see this album in the discount section for a few bucks, euro’s or rubles, by all means go for it. You’ll get two songs that are quite excellent and lots of filler that’ll make for some fun, funky, light background music which won’t impair your conversation with that cutie on the hypothetical house party where you could be playing this. You should not however sit down and pay close attention to A Beautiful World as I did because it just isn’t that kind of album. Beautiful World won’t raise your blood pressure too much unless you look for thought-through, well written lyrics and originality in music specifically. But don’t go spend large sums of money on this because it’s not worth it.

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