Born in Virginia in 1974, D'Angelo (birth name Michael Archer) is often called the Al Green of his generation, and in fact his falsetto is pretty similar. But I'm tempted to compare him to Barry White instead: often derivative and dull, consistently overlong, frequently in bad taste, and dripping with insincerity. After a promising debut, he kept fans waiting five years, then issued a drab, tuneless mess that sounds like it was recorded over a long weekend. Despite all the problems, he is skilled as a producer, songwriter and vocalist, so I wouldn't bet against him snapping back, but I'm not waiting on the edge of my seat either. When it comes to late 90s soul revivalists, I'll take Maxwell over D'Angelo any time; I'll take an old Isley Brothers record over either one of them.
Note: We don't usually make pages until an artist has at least three records out, but at the rate D'Angelo records it could be several years before his third release. (DBW)
Brown Sugar (1995)
It's easy to see why many people hailed this self-written, self-performed, self-produced debut as the emergence of a major R&B talent in the Prince mold. D'Angelo has an easy way with a melody ("Smooth") and his falsetto is gorgeous (the cover of Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'"; backing vocals throughout). There are lots of nice touches in the arrangements: organ on the title track, stride-style piano on "When We Get By," gospel-based transcendence on the closing "Higher." On the other hand, many of the melodies are undercooked ("Alright," "Lady") while the lyrics are packed with hip hop clichés, often coarse (title track, "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker") and sometimes annoyingly stupid: the tender love song "Me And Those Dreamin' Eyes Of Mine" builds a chorus on the line "Your love be da cherry in my chocolate-covered dreams." Ali Shaheed Muhammed, Rafael Saadiq and Bob Power co-produced one track each; Angie Stone co-wrote "Jonz In My Bones." Power played guitar on four tracks, and a few other musicians play minor roles, but it's D'Angelo's show all the way. (DBW)
In 1998 D'Angelo contributed two covers to movie soundtracks: a mechanical, obvious rendition of Prince's "She's Always In My Hair" for Scream 2, and the Ohio Players' "Heaven Must Be Like This" for Down In The Delta. (DBW)
James River (2012)
Shit, damn, Wilson.