Though it's been three years since the last album of all-new material from The Foreign Exchange, solo projects and albums from other members of the +FE crew have filled the interim nicely -- not to mention their live set Dear Friends. However, there's nothing like when Phonte and Nicolay come together to bring us their unique, world-traveled brand of R&B. But, with such a long break between projects and a proliferation of material, it's easy for fans to wonder if that magic that once was has been lost. So, with all that said, what's to be expected when you take a listen to their latest effort, Love In Flying Colors?
Let me just say that if you doubted the quality that FE would bring to this project, you were sorely mistaken. Like each of their previous efforts, Love In Flying Colors is a melting pot of R&B and soul that transcends the manufactured dreck found in much of mainstream R&B. It sets out of the gate running with "If I Knew Then," which features Dallas singer Carmen Rodgers. Reminiscent of the work that FE's Nicolay did with his City Lights series, the track moves quickly with a refreshing, progressive sound as Phonte and Carmen harmonize beautifully. Keeping the momentum going, frequent collaborator Sy Smith sits in for "Right After Midnight," a funky little jam that mixes a bit of the '80s with a bit of international flair. "Better" is the album's first standout, however. It's bass bump and piano-led groove is sure to get your head nodding, but it's the way that the vocalists -- in this case Phonte, Shana Tucker and Eric Roberson -- work so well together. Don't be surprised if it's named the next single.
The '80's sound returns for "On a Day Like Today" before they slow down for "Listen to the Rain." As the title suggests, it's a melancholy melody about recovering from heartache and Phonte does the lyrics justice, revealing a vulnerability he doesn't always show. It's the perfect set up for the album's lead single "Call It Home," perhaps the song most synonymous with the sound we've come to know and love from the crew. But, just when you start to get comfortable, they try out just a small bit of house for jam "The Moment," which is sure to get toes tapping and bodies moving with its infectious groove. It's further proof that the crew can do more than just make mellow R&B, but can also switch it up now and then and do something a bit unexpected.
They end the album with a strong trio of songs that utilize female guest vocalists. "Can't Turn Around" features Gwen Bunn and grooves with best of them as Phonte taps into his falsetto a bit. But it's the end of the song that really hooks you, with Gwen's sugary sweet vocals adding a counterpoint as the songs works itself up to the climax. The Carlitta Durand-featuring "Dreams Are Made for Two" is a dreamy joint with an elastic synth bass groove that cruises along nicely as Phonte takes the verses and Carlitta effortlessly handles the chorus. The album's swan song, "When I Feel Love," enlists honey-voiced Jeanne Jolly to do the honors and ends the set on a definite high note.
Just as with any +FE release, the level of quality on Love In Flying Colors is exceptional. Though it at times sticks to the formula that we've come to know from them, they aren't afraid to shake things up or add something a new into the mix. While we hope not to have to wait another three long years for the next project, I'm positive that this will hold until that time and then some.