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Angie Stone is known as a backup singer for D'Angelo, and, less relevantly, as the mother of his son. Black Diamond is not far from D'Angelo's musical world either. This, Angie Stone's debut, could be described as rather traditional soul music, spiced up with subtly intertwined modern sounds. There is plenty of wah-wah guitar (courtesy of that old funk mercenary, Wah Wah Watson), Fender Rhodes, clavinet and smooth round bass for you here. Also in the traditional soul mould, is the low mixing of Miss Stone's vocals, as well as the very slow, very laid-back atmosphere of the whole affair. You'll find it is the perfect soundtrack for your chill-out and/or intimate evenings: no jarring note will disturb you.

Now admittedly, this album does not require all of your attention. While a good soul effort, of the kind you'll be glad to have on your shelves when you need to create an atmosphere, it introduces no revolution in the genre. Some tracks even fringe on the "filler" status. The arrangements and the musicians' performances will not exactly strike you with awe. But this is perhaps another virtue of this album, best appreciated if listened to in its entirety. Miss Stone is not trying to impress anyone, but rather to soothe your average urbanite's restless spirit. No "Diva" singing here. Track 2, "No More Rain in this Cloud" is thus an immediate favourite, with its intro that sounds as if it was conceived to provide Hip Hop producers with a ready-made loop. Track 8, "Just a Pimp", successfully creates a darker atmosphere, with its descending, minor-key chorus, quite suited to the serious theme of the lyrics. Track 14, "My Lovin' will Give you Something" is the funkiest one, and sounds a bit like the Brand New Heavies, or like a song Tarantino might have selected for his next "Jackie Brown". Stone also graces us with two covers, "Trouble Man", a Marvin Gaye classic, and "Heaven Help", which you may know in a version by Lenny Kravitz, who by the way, along with D'Angelo, features on the album, more conspicously on the jacket than as a significant contributor. A last regret concerning this record: the unimaginative use of the drums / drum machine, which make one suspect that not much time was devoted to devising the rhythm tracks. But this is a minor flaw, and Black Diamond remains on the whole an endearing album, endowed with the rare quality of improving with listening.

Listening to Maceo Parker's Dial : M-A-C-E-O , begs the question: is there anything really new here ? You reach the end of the record and you're still wondering.

Fortunately, Maceo and his chums play in a style they virtually invented, and you can hardly blame them for keeping the funk flag flying. It certainly is the kind of record that will justify its existence at your next house-warming party, the primary raison d'Ítre of the genre being to make you shake your money maker and feel like a teenager who has just had his first ever lager. Track 3, "My Baby Loves You", with its upbeat tempo, well thought-out arrangement and aggressive guitar riff is the masterpiece of the record, a very promising start indeed. But soon the promising start gives way to not very exciting material. Track 4, a cover of the Isley Brothers' "Work to Do", is a nice idea, except that the Average White Band have already done it, a while ago, and better. Prince's "The Greatest Romance that's Ever Been Sold" unaccountably turns up as track 5, with not much difference from the Artist's version on his latest release. Track 9 starts off as Latin-style elevator music, then bursts into hot funk, then reverts again to muzak, leaving the listener somewhat bemused. Is this a parody of some kind ?

At this point, it seems clear that Maceo has no qualms about indulging in kitsch numbers, a conclusion further confirmed by track 10 ("The Closer I Get to You"), vaguely reminiscent of the Love Boat theme tune. More TV nostalgia with track 11, which has something of the Cosby Show about it, and is actually a fun one. The record grinds to an ugly end, Maceo resorting to that hackneyed "ghost track" device : an instrumental version of Prince's "Baby Knows" (another excerpt from the latest album) with Maceo filling the blanks on his saxophone.

But perhaps I'm being too severe with Mr. Parker. It is not impossible, after all, to like this album, if you're not looking for novelty but rather for friendly sounds to shake off the last remnants of winter. Go listen to it, then, just to be on the safe side.



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