A likeable blend of soul and funk with judicious little dashes of rap.
Chris Roberts 2010
In 2007 Angie Stone came back from illness to help re-launch the hallowed soul label Stax, proving she had the vocal chops to do justice to that brand name’s proud heritage with the smoothly strident album The Art of Love & War. It was a high-class set of soul and RnB with one uncharacteristically peculiar moment, wherein Stone declared: “Bill Clinton was the first black man in the White House. That’s right y’all, I said it.” Live shows saw her acclaimed as “Aretha Franklin’s heiress”, but in truth this was slick, easily palatable stuff rather than anything more raw or abrasive. It was D’Angelo’s former right-hand-woman’s best seller to date.
Now she returns with what’s being pitched as a major, bold change of direction, as the title suggests. “I didn’t want to make another neo-soul record,” she’s said. “That would have been repetitive.” So what does Unexpected yield? Sampled Tibetan monks and found sound? Tapes of plane engines mixed with throat singers? Of course not. It’s a neo-soul record. A very good one, because that’s what she does, her passionate voice bringing abundant personality. Why she feels the need to promote the wheel as electricity is a mystery.
The sudden death of her father, her mentor, is alleged to have driven her into wild and crazy rebellious beats, yet the opening title-track is pure Sly & the Family Stone. It’s terrific, and engaging, and once you get past the fact that Unexpected should have been called Pretty Much What You Expected and Hoped For, this is a likeable blend of soul and funk with judicious little dashes of rap (from Atlanta rapper Dose) or modernism. There’s even a vocoder on the techno-lite of Tell Me. But if you have a voice like Stone’s in your arsenal, you generally tidy up the stage, release the rhythms and let it do its thing. If you’re a design classic, zealously chasing the youth vote only diminishes you.
I Ain’t Hearin’ U and I Don’t Care are forthright and fluid statements of self-respect and independence; Think Sometime” is a robust enough ballad. The album’s unsurprising, and often unconscionably fine.