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Sexual Healing: D'Angelo



(emd/virgin records)

Rolling Stone heralds him as "The divine soulman of the decade." Billboard calls Voodoo, his sophomore album, "one of the most anticipated releases in recent history." After his platinum 1995 debut, Brown Sugar, D'Angelo was credited with reinventing hip-hop and pioneering the neo-soul movement. Critically acclaimed and publicly revered, he finally gives us a worthwhile follow-up with Voodoo, a raw, organic collection worlds away from the current slate of commercialized, over-produced hip hop.

Should you believe the hype? Definitely. In short, Voodoo casts a spell. Its grooves are positively hypnotic; the thirteen-song, 79 minute album overflows with tight harmonies, sensuous basslines and a grinding beat. D'Angelo's voice is raw, soulful and downright seductive. This is music you can't just listen to-you really feel it. It's been stripped of production, infused with soul and energized with funk.

D'Angelo seems to take an almost spiritual approach to his art. Indeed, Voodoo echoes the style of past soul greats-Marvin Gaye, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and early Prince. Voodoo's production is a virtual homage to D'Angelo's musical ancestors: Along with recording the album at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios, he even used Wonder's old keyboard. He also channels his heroes through his voice and the numerous instruments he plays-piano, bass, sax and guitar-passing their essence into his next-generation R&B. Voodoo is not derivative, though-it's divinely inspired.

D'Angelo's collaborators, including ?estlove of the Roots, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, raise the album's artistry to the next level. Voodoo feels like a jam session-mistakes have been left in, keeping the sound raw, alive, honest and human. Guest performances by hip-hop maestros Method Man and Redman ignite "Left & Right," the album's first single, while diva-of-the-moment Lauryn Hill blends in flawlessly on a remake of Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Luv."

Voodoo is at once engaging and relaxing, chill but passionate. The songs blend together smoothly, but each has a distinctive flavor, from the classic R&B of "Send It On," to the Sly-style funk of "Left & Right," to the genre-of-the-moment Latin tinge of "Spanish Joint." Threads of gospel and jazz are also interwoven throughout the melodies. Both informed by the past and original enough for the future, this album is a classic.

To be honest, I wasn't the biggest fan of D'Angelo before I heard this, but I can't stop listening to it-it's musically and artistically captivating. Even if you're a skeptic of hip-hop or R&B, Voodoo will make you a believer.


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