CD REVIEWS: Solange, Simian, Bill Withers
Solange can't take Still Bill
Rundown: Solo Star sees Beyonce Knowles's (of Destiny's Child fame) little sister Solange Knowles coming across as young and immature, as her lyrics address tough issues like teenage crushes and the pressures of a grade school dance.
Key Tracks: All but four songs are about a teenage love/crush, yet the majority of them sound distinct and original. One noteworthy track is, "Feelin' You Part II (featuring N.O.R.E.)," which has been released as her first single. There are several other collaborations, including a duet with Lil' Romeo on "True Love" and she gets together with Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics for "Thinking About You," bringing a mature sound to the record.
Sounds Like: Despite her insistence that she doesn't want to sound like her sister, Solange does. Though she lacks Beyonce's smoothly mature voice, she makes up for it with her own rhythmic vibe. Solange is still very young, and hopefully time will see her voice and the content of her songs mature.
We Are Your Friends
Rundown: Simian is a quartet from just outside Aylesbury, in the south of Britain. They are currently on the verge of a one-month tour of North America, to support their sophomore album We Are Your Friends.
Key Tracks: The opening track, "La Breeze," is a silly, but catchy, mix that introduces the audience to Simian's unique style of pop-tronica. "Never Be Alone," the third track, is a melancholy tune littered with electronic leads and sweet vocal harmonies reminiscent of the British invasion era. "Skin" is the perfect example of the group's sound, a sour melody with a prominent bass that is inexplicably hard to get out of your head.
Sounds Like: Simian combines happy synthesizers, rhythmic bassline beats and syrupy sweet "oohs" and "aahs" to produce a dark pop that's just different enough to be satisfying. Simian is almost like Damon Albarn's transition from Blur to Gorillaz. Just as lovable as it is refreshing, We Are Your Friends is a worthwhile listen for all British music fans.
Still Bill and Menagerie
Rundown: Once upon a time, even before D'Angelo wore pants, there was a smarter, funkier and generally less randy brand of soul. Few artists were able to bend the confines of this complex genre as Bill Withers did, mixing elements of funk, country, blues and singer-songwriter all on the same album, usually with favourable results. Bill Withers' music will help to fill the void that is left by the rather "in-your-face" approach taken by many R&B artists today.
Key Tracks: Still Bill (1972) contains a few more obvious standouts, including the huge hits "Use Me" and "Lean on Me," not to mention the funktacular "Kissing my Love." Menagerie (1977) starts off with a hard act to follow, "Lovely Day," a song which will give you a warm feeling all over. Unfortunately, Menagerie loses a little steam after the second track, "I Want to Spend the Night," when the somewhat dated nature of the material becomes apparent.
Sounds Like: Unlike many modern artists like Remy Shand, whose soul sounds like it was bought at Wal-Mart, Bill Withers doesn't aspire to be anyone else he is Bill Withers and proud of it, and this is what makes much of his music so successful. Withers's voice is full, earthy and unique, with touches of Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and Ray Charles, and each song has a life of its own.
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