Monday, August 10, 2015

Redray Frazier's Blood in the Water on CD

Do you remember back in the early to mid '80s, after Thriller had made that once in a lifetime splash on the charts, and suddenly there was a whole new breed of funk/r&b/pop that was edgy, quirky and dynamic? Remember that first album from Rockwell, and how good it actually was, and how everyone thought he'd knock the King of Pop off the top of the mountain? How about Terence Trent D'Arby, and how he was able to cast that darkness into the background of his songs and that made him sound like nobody else? Do you remember that's when The Purple One became huge and everyone was choosing sides between him and Mikey? Do you remember?

I don't. Back then, I was listening to the Minutemen and X and Husker Du and the Meat Puppets and I just didn't get it. I didn't hate that type of music, I respected it, but it just wasn't my thing. In my old age, I've changed. Where once I would have listened to a singer like Red Ray Frazier and said, "It's good, but not my deal," now I'm listening to his new EP, Blood in the Water, and I'm thinking "It's good, really good. I need this music in my life."

Maybe Janelle Monae was the flashpoint for me, but I'm truly welcoming any music that can take me back and help me to connect all the dots of my musical education. Frazier, who was born and raised in New York and started off singing gospel music "in his father's Baptist church," has deftly walked through the door opened by Frank Ocean, the Black Keys and perhaps even Sharon Jones, modern vanguards who have introduced old genres to a new audience. He navigates these six songs through a bright, sunny, '80s pair of shades with the ease of a seasoned vet who's already thinking about releasing a second box set. His soulful voice and his devotion to his very specialized and difficult genre sets him apart from his contemporaries who want to add too much 21st century to an '80s sound. Frazier is, perhaps, adding an '80s sound to classic Motown, and that's cool enough.

His amazing backing band doesn't hide in the shadows, either. They are able to capture those bizarre synthesizer programmings and laid back beats with a confidence that matches that of their front man. Jeff Baxter on keyboards? Matt Brown on guitars? How about folk-rocker Ezra Holbrook, a personal favorite, on drums? In other words, when will they be playing in Colorado? I'm there.

If there's a misstep on this album, it's the somewhat lo-fi approach to the production. It's not muffled and tinny in an attempt to recapture a classic R&B vibe, but it's sort of distorted and super sharp around the edges (although there is plenty of deep bass captured by our new Opera Seconda SE speakers). When the full-length debut album comes out from Redray, and it will be a great injustice if he doesn't follow this up immediately, I think he should make his songs sound as big and as dynamic and as sparkly as the best '80s pop albums. Have you listened to Thriller lately? It still sounds great more than thirty years later. I think Redray Frazier should go big, big as his vision.

(Frazier is selling this EP directly on his website, by the way. Check it out!)

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