If you asked 100 soul music fans "Who is the most underrated male vocalist of this generation?" chances are that Rahsaan Patterson would come pretty close to the top of the list. Critically acclaimed and respected by both his contemporaries and veterans of the game, it's a bit of a head-scratcher why he isn't better known, a household name even. I've heard his vocals compared to Stevie Wonder and a male version of Chaka Khan, his songwriting is first class, and he is still one of a handful of artists who believes that albums -- as opposed to singles -- still matter. All in all it's a bit of a conundrum. However, I suppose we can take comfort in the fact that, amongst those in the know at least, a new Rahsaan Patterson album is an event to be celebrated.
Those who have followed Rahsaan's career since his '97 self-titled debut will have witnessed the growth of a true artist. Both that album and his 1999 follow-up, Love In Stereo, were created while Rahsaan was signed to the now defunct MCA Records and while both are fantastic albums that served as a blueprint for a host of the "neo soul" releases to follow, both albums are very of their time. Following a split from MCA, Rahsaan decided to follow the indie route and After Hours showcased what he was capable of when he had 100% control. 2007's Wines & Spirits and holiday album, The Ultimate Gift, showed further progression, with Rahsaan experimenting with different sounds and styles rather than the mostly straight up soul and R&B of his previous efforts. So where would Rahsaan go with his latest album, bleuphoria?
The opening track, an almost unrecognizable cover of Frank Sinatra's "I Only Have Eyes For You," lulls the listener into a bit of a false sense of security. With its slight '80's throwback vibe and those vocals it's fair to say this would have been at home on any of Patterson's previous albums. However, once "Ghosts" kicks in it's clear that this is no straightforward exercise in soul music. With distorted vocals and an insanely catchy hook, as well as a criminally under-used Jody Watley on backing vocals, "Ghosts" feels like the proper start of the album.
"Crazy (Baby)" segues in with a repetitive baseline and synths, then comes the "cuckoo cuckoooo" hook that had me shaking my head at first. However, once the verse kicks in and Faith Evans wraps those velvety vocals around the chorus I was hooked. This is definitely one of my favorites on the album. We already covered the slow-funk grind of first single "Easier Said Than Done," which segues smoothly into the hypnotic groove of "Stay With Me." Of all the cuts on the album, this one has radio-ready single written all over it. It's smooth groove coupled with Rahsaan's elastic vocals would be at home any AC radio format and that, in my opinion, is the song's downfall. For all it's pleasantness, it never really goes anywhere.
Next are two ballads, the heart-achingly beautiful "Miss You" and "Goodbye." This couplet, sitting at the mid-point of the disc, brings things down a notch or two and reminds us why we fell in love with Rahsaan in the first place. At certain points on these two tracks, and throughout the album, you sometimes have to remind yourself that there aren't three or four vocalists present -- it's just Rahsaan and a voice that can truly be described as an instrument in its own right. The album's title track is up next, and oddly enough this is probably my least favorite track. It feels more an interlude than a full-bodied song but I guess it serves it's purpose as an intro to the stunning "Mountain Top." Accompanied by Tata Vega and the Andrae Crouch Singers it's more of a gospel hymn than a traditional soul song. I won't lie, I would have loved to have heard this with more orchestration, but the the slightly sparse backing does give Rahsaan, Tata, and the choir's voices room to shine.
"Makin Love" sounds like an out take from After Hours -- in a good way, it's my favorite RP album -- and is another example of the mid-tempo groove he nails every single time. The breakdown that takes up the last third of the track is somewhat un-needed, but artistic whims being what they are we can let that slide. "6 AM" is probably tied with "Crazy (Baby)" for my favorite song on bleuphoria. "Six in the mornin', yawnin. Laying down next to you" conjures up the right imagery without being obvious and Lalah Hathaway's husky tones add another dimension to what is already one of the sexiest tracks of 2011.
The final two tracks, "Insomnia" and "God," round off what is certainly one of the best albums of the year. The former has a slightly dark, almost sinister vibe, which is completely switched up once the punchy chorus arrives. The latter, a minimal, almost lounge-type chill out track wraps things up wonderfully.
Overall bleuphoria is a stirring, deeply personal collection of songs that gives us a real insight into Rahsaan Patterson the artist. Here he has had complete control over the finished product, even producing a couple of the tracks without his regular collaborators Jamey Jaz and Keith Crouch and, while some may see this album as a step too far into left field, there is no denying that bleuphoria gives us a glimpse of an artist at the top of his game.