September 6th, 2011 | Published in Rock, Pop & Folk
A Vivoscene Feature Review by Brian Miller
vivoscene rating 9.3
“It’s important that we keep the album alive”, says Lenny Kravitz and in his new double vinyl release Black and White America, Lenny pulls off the near-impossible – making a classic album that is simultaneously his blackest and his whitest. Funkified, soul-stirring and radio-friendly commercial: that combination hasn’t been present in music since Stevie Wonder coughed up his unmatched 70s albums, but Kravitz, having survived 20 years and more in the music biz, is a master at his craft. To date he’s been primarily known for his singles, but this album may just change that. Four sides with four songs, conceptual in nature with 16 songs and a dedication to album art that is all but forgotten are going to make this record a collector’s item.
Kravitz speaks out against the present consumption of music as product, and for inspiration he goes back to such black music luminaries as James Brown, Gil Scott Heron and even Ike Turner. Guitar-driven, bass-supported, with drums that will kick you into the middle of next week, the opening title track sets the mood and indicates that Lenny’s doing more than making an album here; he’s making a statement.
“In 1963 my [white] father married a black woman,” he sings, “And when they walked down the street they were in danger.” As thought there were any question of Lenny’s right to sing and write both black and white. Rumour has it the original title for this record was to be “Negrophilia”, not an easy sell to corporate music conglomerates. Hence the somewhat less-striking but still serviceable Black and White America.
“Superlove” is highly reminiscent of the Ohio Players, with its great harmonies and a terrific guitar solo. Other standout tracks include “Liquid Jesus”, “I Can’t Be Without You”, and the closer “Push”, about dropping the negative in life and finding one’s way back home to appreciate what’s truly important, are songs Stevie Wonder would have been happy to write, particularly in the last decade or two.
That said, the whiter side of Lenny can sometimes pale in contrast to the fine black-influenced tunes on the record. Particularly suspect is “Rock Star City Life” for while it’s impeccably produced, the lyrics are juvenile even by commercial standards.
Sincerity doesn’t always make for great art, or even good art, but this genre-defying mix of soul, funk and hard-rock is a whole greater than the sum of its parts, which demonstrates Lenny’s point about saving the album. So, find a way to buy Black and White America in its entirety, especially in vinyl if and when you can find it.
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