Melodies can convey emotions often alluded by spoken language. A combination of instruments guided by the rhythm can capture memories more vividly than even the sharpest of minds. The tonality of a singer's moan--in between hooks and verses--are liable to strum your heartstrings to the point where tears involuntarily stream down your cheeks before the bridge. As 2009 comes to a tumultuous close, there were literally hundreds of songs introduced to my playlist, but these ten tracks spoke to my spirit with a resonant voice of kindred feelings indicative of why music will always consume my life.
Quadron: "Buster Keaton"
I like my music smothered in emotion and sensuality, and Quadron delivers a soulful surge of both with "Buster Keaton." With pristine production and meticulous use of horns and beats, this song is like Lord of the Rings meets Mo' Better Blues. I'm a sucker for a tight chord progression and this song has just that. When I want to really feel the music, I make sure this song is in the rotation.
Curt Chambers: "What If"
I picked up Curt Chambers' Incredible LP while he was in town performing with Eric Roberson. I immediately ripped my autographed CD to my iTunes library and loaded his tracks onto my iPod. It was during a random bike ride that the lyrics to "What If" hit me like a ton of bricks:
"What if our reasons for us being in love are wrong and it hurts us each day?"
I found myself on the curb absorbing his lyrics, the powerful guitar solo and the energy of the live audience blessed to witness this song in person. It's been in heavy rotation ever since.
Meshell Ndegeocello: "Slaughter"
I've come to expect Meshell Ndegeocello's husky lower alto voice to accompany her funky bass lines. When I got a hold of her latest album, Devil's Halo, I was surprised by a soft, vulnerable whisper that hypnotized my senses--only to jolt me with a constant volley between hard rock guitar riffs and jazz snares over ambient tones. It's hard, it's soft, it's hard again. It's beautiful.
De La Soul: "Excursions 2009"
Twenty years since their debut, De La Soul have only gotten stronger in their lyricism and originality. Their contribution to J.Period's Best of Q-Tip mixtape is a surreal rendition of "Excursions" that borrows the instrumental from the Low End Theory LP and adds a fresh new flow from these hip hop legends.
Choklate is the WYSIWYG of indie soul music, and what you get is real talk launched from one of the strongest, most beautiful female voices out there. In "Pretty," she says the things we're afraid to say but often think. The beat drives away the need to be politically correct as Choklate professes that we're not always gonna "dig each other and get along" and that's just the way it is. I always enjoy her songs on life perspectives and this latest gem from her To Whom It May Concern album is my latest fave (no pun intended).
Eric Roberson: "Still"
This song is a wonderful blend of cinematic empathy and masterful storytelling. I know what it's like to have the pain of a former lover still linger beneath your smile. Erro encapsulates that aching in your chest when familiar spots trigger memories and, despite your noble attempts to move on, you still miss them. The repetitive guitar hits reel you in while the words touch your soul, but it's the syncopated chant of yearning at the end that makes this a classic Eric Roberson tune.
Mos Def: "Casa Bey"
Unexpected breaks mixed with unconventional sampled treading along inconsistent tempos and tied together through flawless bars of rhyme that never miss a beat is pure genius. It's no wonder this song was nominated for a GRAMMY this year. If you want to go for a unique, musical journey -- let the mighty Mos Def show you the way.
You have to be on point to take on an Isley Brothers classic and Zo! definitely rose to the occasion with the help of Darien Brockington. The piano flowed better than the original (IMO) while Darien's improvisation on the hook added that signature vibe to pull "Highways of My Life" out of the old school and into one of 2009's best remakes.
Joy Jones: "Over"
I automatically gravitate towards songs about healing, self-assurance and pressing through the dark side of love. Joy Jones' "Over" is organic soul poured over digital waveforms as she does the impossible: making Auto Tune palatable. She tames this overused audio plugin with a Ronnie Foster bass riff (most notably used in A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation") and transparent vocals that proclaim that "life on earth is not the same without you near."
Eric Roberson: "My Life" [Mary J. Blige Cover]
When Erro agreed to cover this quintessential track for the Men Love Mary mixtape, I knew he was going to channel the angst of Mary J. Blige through his personal brand of soulfulness. It was 2 a.m. the first time I played the final mix in my headphones and the lyrics cascaded through my mind like a well-orchestrated sermon while the re-imagined instrumental carried his voice on a magic carpet ride to every part of me that needed encouragement. The energy is almost overwhelming, but yet I can't stop playing it over and over...and over. My 2009 is summarized by these words:
"He'll give you peace of mind/And you will see the sunshine (for real)/And you'll get to free your mind/And things will turn out fine."
I think that sums (2009) up for me.