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Is the Motown Re-Tread Ingenious? Or a Crutch?

sharon-dap-3410232.jpgWe've been absolutely ga-ga over the singers we've highlighted on this site that "go way back, back into time" to channel what can only be defined as a decidedly "Motown Sound." To wit, anything that reminds us of the imprint's golden era is automatically welcomed with open arms, mainly because it offers a respite from some of the paint-by-the-numbers, auto-tune foolishness that has completely weighed down the commercial side of Black music. But are the artists that use this sound as guilty of trend-chasing as their mainstream counterparts?

We're hesitant to credit Amy Winehouse with anything other than being a tragic mess, but we'll use Back to Black as an example, for the sake of conversation. While her first release Frank employed
a sound that was at once contemporary R&B inspired by classic Blues
with a sprinkling of Hip Hop, her second album smacked you in the face
with Motown influences. "Tears Dry On Their Own" is nearly a direct
clone of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and the track for "Rehab"
could've easily been a leftover from The Temptations or The Supremes.
This would be the single that made her a household name on our side of
the pond and would arguably influence succeeding artists to take the
same approach.

Disagree? Check out the recent offerings from Solange, who's so unique and innovative and unlike her sister that it seemed her only option was to channel The Supremes. Raphael Saadiq (who
can do no wrong in my book) is also going there, but it could be argued
that this was the path he was headed toward, starting with Tony! Toni! Toné!'s House of Music. The Platinum Pied Pipers' "On A Cloud" featuring Karma uses a backbeat similar to "Rehab." Other acts that may be guilty of this include Little Jackie, Duffy and Alice Russell when paired with the Quantic Soul Orchestra. We're hesitant to include Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings,
who are certainly part of this revival but every album in their catalog
since 2002 uses this approach. (Let's not forget that when Lauryn Hill did "Doo Wop [That Thing]" it was 1998. And here we are 10 years later.)

So let us know what you think. We're definitely enjoying the old school
sounds, but if this many artists are doing it at the same time, how can we credit them for going against the grain?

(Special thanks to Cornfed for the examples, which run a lot deeper than what I used here.)


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  • Felisa

    Well...I'll tell ya one thing...I think this nod to the past is far better than what some people are doing in terms of uhm...being "progressive" and trying something "fresh" and "different" *COUGH* MUSIQ *COUGH*. I mean, man...done right, Mo-Town just doesn't get old. I fell in love with each of those three Saadiq tracks you guys shared. And despite Winehouse being a hot mess, those tracks off her two albums are really nice. Duffy's come out with Mo-Town influence too. To be honest I'm really not tired of any of it. But yeah, if R&B is suddenly diluted with Motownesque stuff...man, that'll eventually even make me tired of such a good thing.

  • marques

    i certainly agree with everything you said, especially re: solange. although i've liked everything i've heard from her upcoming cd, i wasn't at all happy to hear her "f^ck the industry" rant of a song, admonishing the industry for wanting cookie-cutter artists, when she's doing "throw-back" soul-influenced music, like SO many other artists. but i digress...
    i'm hoping this "revival" in motown-era sounds will spark artists to give us a better quality product, something more soulful and intimate. we'll see...
    great post!!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSlUe-bSEMg SoulLover

    Another artist who blew up in Canada with the same sound is Jully Black. The song is actually a cover song from Etta James which Berry Gordy is credited. Great song: Seven Day Fool
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSlUe-bSEMg
    I think its great this sound is coming back to the forefront because we need a change from the same ole same pop R&B flavor. Great to hear full band and heavy soul in your face.
    Honestly, I don't think it isn't anything new coming around again. Just touch different. Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Raphael, Bilal and others that brought alot of soul in the same vien to the forefront. This recreation of the old soul sound is just the next level.

  • http://www.Soul-Sanctuary.net Stephanie Renee

    You know, I think one of the things that never gets tired about the "Motown Sound" is the richness of the sound quality, as opposed to the perfect sterility of digitally-produced music. I don't think it's coincidental that the 60s production style is making a comeback at the exact same time that vinyl is experiencing a surge in sales. That warmth is missing from the production and the lyrics of most modern tunes, and true audiophiles are rebelling. AMEN!

  • sdg1844

    I love it as long as folks are talented. There have been some wonderful artists presented here. It can be dangerous territory if there are TOO many folks takin' it back. However, so far, so good.

  • Nonplussed

    Well everyone loves Motown and the Winehouse album sold big so it's unsurprising that the imitated style will be imitated. However I think there's a creative difference between music inspired by or referencing a style and music which aims to duplicate a style. Maybe it's a reaction against the bombast of concept, polemic and over-production and an attempt to return to emotion, the lyric and the singer; a little joy in the exchange. Who knows, maybe we'll get some better songs?

  • http://sugahoney.blogspot.com suga

    Great topic!
    I fell in love with "Back to Black" and have moved to #1 stan status for Mr. Saadiq mainly because of their re-itroduction of the old school sound, but i do worry about people jumping on the bandwagon and running with it.
    I wondered the same thing when Ciara came out with the 80s Prince inspired sound, and then folks like Puff, Justin Timberlake, Amerie, Ashanti, and Robin Thicke followed suit.
    i love it though, mainly because we get a break from the digital sound. I'm a fan of meaningful lyrics and instruments that create melodies with more than the punch of a button.
    They could be mistaken, but I heard someone say that Solange's 1st cd had this old school, Motown flava as well.

  • SoulUK

    As long as the music sounds good then I'm not complaining.
    OK so there is a huge increase in the number of artists releasing 'Motown influenced' music, but for the most part the artists are adding something new to the mix as well. It's not like they are actin as tribute acts to the past, they're makin modern-day versions of the Motown sound.
    A point to note is the artists who are using the throw-back sound are artists who can SING! They obviously realise that certain types of music show off their voices to the max, and so they run with it.
    I say 'if it aint broke, don't fix it' .... sure don't copy it straight off but all new music has to be influenced by music from the past. I'd rather it be Motown than the popular 'urban/r&b-pop/soul-lite' music we are subjected to day in, day out by artists who can't sing a note.

  • Cheyenne Martinez-Boyette

    Solange and Beyonce suck. Thin voiced women who would never have the raw talent to overcome industry prejudice like a number of women like Etta James, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown & others did. Please, the days of good music with substance are all but behind us, save for a select few who break through regardless of how they look...but because of how they sing.



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