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D'Angelo and The Vanguard 'Black Messiah' review: Worth the wait

D'Angelo's and The Vanguard, "Black Messiah" on RCA.

D'Angelo's and The Vanguard, "Black Messiah" on RCA. Credit: RCA

It was worth the wait.

D'Angelo became king of neo-soul in 2000 with his "Voodoo" album, a collection as stunning and impressive as his "Untitled" video. Then, he more or less disappeared.

"Black Messiah" (RCA) -- which was originally set to be released next year, but was rushed out in response to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri -- is D's long-awaited return, though he has once again jumped ahead of his previous work by leaps and bounds. Rather than returning to the silky neo-soul of "Voodoo," D'Angelo has crafted a new sound, equal parts stripped-down "Sign o' the Times"-era Prince funk, soulful Sly Stone inclusiveness and Afropunk scratchiness. It's a thrill -- even before he starts layering in impressive lyrics.

"All we wanted was a chance to talk," he sings in the stunning "The Charade." "'Stead we only got outlined in chalk." It's a rallying cry and a warning, but delivered in more complicated terms, with vocals layered upon other vocals, suggesting that even though he sings, "It really won't take us very long," it may be more complex than that.

Perhaps "Black Messiah" 's most distinctive feature is the way ?uestlove's drums and Pino Palladino's bass give most of the songs a loose, improvised groove, while everything else, from D's falsettos to the string section flourishes, seems meticulously placed. The result is the exquisite jazz-funk of "Really Love" and "Betray My Heart," songs that manage to sound both timely and timeless and provide a potent reminder that every musical A-list needs to include D'Angelo once again.


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