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4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, inspired and adventurous.,,
This review is from: Compass (Audio CD)
Blue-eyed electro-impresario Jamie Lidell has been screwing around in the borders of soul, RnB, glitch, electro and jazz for ten years now. Born in England, the thirtysomething is a resident Manhattanite and, over the last decade, has delivered a succession of albums that have presented his own take on the soul, funk and blues genres.
His previous three albums have been the result of an independent-thinking, do-it-youself approach, so it is interesting that his fourth record - and his third on ultra-cool label Warp - "Compass" sees him opening his sound up to even more sounds and collaborators.
The recording sessions started at Beck's Hudson Studios in Los Angeles, where he gathered Jamie together with Wilco, Leslie Feist and veteran drummer James Gadson (who's hit sticks for Bill Withers, Quincy Jones among many others) for Beck's Record Club project (where a group of musicians cover an album in a day).
Inspired by the chemistry of those jams, they shifted to the legendary Ocean Way Studios.
There, they were joined by producer/keyboardist Brian Lebarton, singer Nikka Costa, and Justin Stanley.
He has been burdened with a blue-eyed soul tag, but is much funkier than that.
It is an album designed to surprise: from the opening drumbeat that hearkens back to Massive Attack's teardrop, before gliding into a soulful, vibraphone-infused lament, no two tracks are the same.
Lidell's voice - disarmingly powerful, dynamic and varied, is the silver bullet that holds the songs together and makes "Compass" an album to pay attention to.
Well, to be more precise, the only things that remain stable in the album are Jamie's twin loves: his voice and his bass. Fast, funky bass riffs punctuate every song and seem the natural go-to when the pace slows, while he uses his voice as a beat maker and backing track as much as he can.
The opening tracks "Completely Exposed" and "Your Sweet Boom" place Lidell's sound firmly in the Gnarls Barkley camp.
"I Wanna Be Your Telephone" boasts a grubby groove that would make Prince grin but is let down by an irredeemably weak lyrical metaphor ('"..Always in your pocket, never far away') while "The Ring" - a dirty blues jam - and "Completely Exposed" are pared-back soul truckers, stitched together against the odds by Lidell's intuitive vocal and minimalist arrangements.
Other highlights include the 1980s-style slow jam "She Needs Me", the Jackson 5 sunniness of "Enough's Enough" and the rock'n'roll soul of "You Are Waking", while the title track combines tender acoustic soul with emotive film-score strings.
With his sweet soul falsetto and dazzling vocals, effortlessly shifting from the soulful bellow of Free's Paul Rodgers to the sweet croon of Al Green, he sings about love's peaks, purity and vulnerability, backed by scratchy funk, contorted blues and gurgling electronica.
"It's a mutating and thoroughly amiable record that uses funk and soul merely as a jumping-off point, before fidgeting off elsewhere. So let's dismiss those 'blue-eyed soul boy' clichés to the back of the lazy drawer". - Wendy Roby
"A point chalked up to innovation isn't always a point for enjoyment, however: the cut-up aural soup can occasionally leave the plastic-soul vocals sounding incongruous and cheap" - Chris Buckle
All in all, this is a remarkable, inspired album, where Jamie refuses to beat the path of mainstream, always trying to be adventurous and relevant.
Best tracks: "Completely Exposed", "Your Sweet Boom", "Enough's Enough", "Compass" and "Coma Chameleon".
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