D’Angelo: An Appreciation
Bonnaroo Superjam – photo by John Patrick Gatta
Around this time, I (like many) had a startling moment in my local record store. I spotted a CD case on the rack with a picture of D’Angelo I didn’t recognize and a strange album title, YODA: The Monarch of Neo Soul. A new album? And I hadn’t heard about it? It turned out to be a bootleg anthology, featuring unreleased covers of Al Green and the Ohio Players and a few hypnotic studio jams. A false alarm. D’Angelo wasn’t back.
Until now. Now, Wallace reports that “D” is back in the studio, in the gym, on the wagon, on the stage. He’s on Youtube, tearing through old Funkadelic songs in front of adoring crowds of European fans. Questlove – D’Angelo’s friend and frequent collabator – tells Wallace that his friend is “the last pure African-American artist left.” And Wallace doesn’t argue. Toward the end of her week following him on tour, the GQ writer describes a tour stop at an arena in Paris called “Le Zenith.” As the show is winding down and the singer plays a single note on the piano: the beginning of “Untitled (How Does it Feel),” the Naked Song. “What happens next is the most soulful, palpable connection I’ve ever felt between an artist and an audience,” she writes. “People are crying, swaying, raising up their hands. I’m one of them.”
A few weeks later, Jon Pareles provided corroborating testimony for the New York Times. “There was nothing tentative about D’Angelo’s performance,” he reported from the singer’s surprise set at Bonnaroo. Running through tunes by Led Zeppelin, Sly Stone, The Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, and Funkadelic, D’Angelo “was in full voice, or, to be more precise, voices: the silken falsetto, the funk yowl, the love-man tenor, the full-throated shout. Playing keyboards and guitar, flaunting muscles and charisma, D’Angelo was intact.”
The next question, then, for those of us who weren’t in France or Tennessee, is obvious. When does the album come out? Some say we’ll get it before the September Grammy deadline. Others say 2013. Surely, it will as the most anticipated album of the year, whatever year that is. And it’s not just fans who are lining up. It’s everyone from Chris Rock to Eric Clapton to George Clinton to Marvin Gaye’s second wife, Janis. There a rumors that over fifty songs have been recorded and D’Angelo, ever the perfectionist, simply needs to pick the final list. Our ears are drooling.
In the meantime, we have that GQ video. The suit. The tie. The guitar. The voice. When I saw it, I didn’t immediately think of D’Angelo’s idol, Marvin Gaye, but of another man who scorching the middle ground between sacred and secular. When Al Green took a break from the world of R & B stardom in the early ‘80s to sing only religious tunes, there was a film crew there to record it for documentary called The Gospel According to Al Green. His moment singing “I Love You” for the cameras is an eerie predecessor to D’Angelo’s GQ clip. Just another sharply-dressed man playing his guitar and singing as if he’d never left.
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