WITH THE emergence of spring and her kind sun and her many blossoms, I feel my winter blues melting away. During the months when the sky is concrete-gray and the chilly winds merciless, my changer at home shuffles more reflective, melancholic tunes. When I'm not checking out various new weekly releases, the mood is usually blue. Jazz seems to satisfy the most: Billie Holiday's aching croon or Miles Davis' lonesome trumpet notes haunt my apartment. I fall asleep to Shirley Horn's breathy vocals and languid piano.
But now I'm ready to get my boogie on, funk it up a bit since the weather is warming and my toes are free in my leather sandals. No love lost, Miles and Lady Day. And I adore you too, Shirley. But it's time to fill the changer with songs that reflect my brighter mood. Here's my latest playlist of new and old joints, something I call the Rashod Spring Day Mixtape. Note the order of the songs: The hard-hitting, danceable numbers are up front, gradually giving way to more mellow tunes, which should play at what Frankie Beverly calls the "golden time of day." That's when the sun has settled and everything's cool, relaxed.
Mariah Carey, "It's Like That": Let me just say that, over the years, I've never really cared for Mariah Carey's music. She can sing, yes. She has a dynamic range. But I generally find her stuff derivative and flat-out boring. Her new album, The Emancipation of Mimi, is a mannered, trend-conscious hip-hopped R&B set. But its first single, produced by Jermaine Dupri, is undeniably catchy. And even I, a perennial Mariah Carey hater, dig this song. With its spare, percolating beat and breezy vocal, it's the ideal sunny-weather jam.
Amerie, "1 Thing": Produced by Rich Harrison, the man behind "Crazy In Love," Beyonce's instant classic from two summers ago, "1 Thing" is one of the most brilliant numbers on the radio right now. The banging, thunderous drum loop and Amerie's piercing vocals spiking the beats make this a fierce record that will surely fill dance floors well into the summer. It'll probably do the same years from now.
Evelyn "Champagne" King, "I'm in Love": Speaking of dance-floor classics, this Bronx native waxed many back in the day, including "I Don't Know If It's Right," "Love Come Down" and "Your Personal Touch." She struck gold at age 16 with her 1977 debut, Smooth Talk, which featured "Shame," a disco classic still played in clubs today. In 1981, the singer dropped the revolutionary "I'm in Love," which whistled in a new production style for '80s R&B. One of the first all-synthesized records, the bottom-heavy Kashif-produced tune topped Billboard's soul charts. Nearly 25 years after "I'm in Love" stormed the airwaves, Janet Jackson sampled it on "R&B Junkie," one of the few cuts worth listening to on her oh-so-tired 2004 CD, Damita Jo.
The Fatback Band, "I Found Lovin'": Another old-school jam here from an underrated act that scored hits during the '70s funk era. The New York band released this monster in 1983, and it sounds as fresh today as it did two decades ago with its airtight groove, squishy synth keyboard line and smooth hook.
Tweet, "Sports, Sex & Food": A cut off of Tweet's new CD, the underappreciated It's Me Again. Riding a smokin' New Orleans-style piano sample, this hand-clapping ditty is funny and clever. And you can dance to it.
The Ying Yang Twins, "Wait (The Whisper Song)": This X-rated cut has been thumpin' through radio and club speakers for months. On it, the irreverent Atlanta rap duo whispers filthy come-ons over a muted beat and finger snaps. It's a raw, strange, dirty little record. And I love it.
Beck, "Que Onda Guero": This is a selection from Beck's acclaimed new album, Guero, which is Spanish slang for "white boy." The funky, bouncy, dialogue-ridden number is one of the best cuts off the album featuring a quirky, nonsense rap by one of the most restless creative spirits in pop.
Toshi, "Breaking Through": I interviewed this Japanese R&B star several months back. And I couldn't get through it without his manager-interpreter on the line. But the silky soul of his album, Time to Share, is easily understood. "Breaking Through," a laid-back groove that samples Curtis Mayfield's "Tripping Out," is an album highlight.
Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, "Ain't It Strange": A jazzy floater from the group's 1979 Inspiration LP, perhaps the R&B band's best album. Featuring passionate vocals from Beverly, one of most underrated singers around, the song centers on an old truth: Life keeps moving and changing whether you're ready or not. With a dazzling Fender Rhodes break, it's a wonder this cut hasn't received more airplay over the years.
Joni Mitchell, "The Hissing of Summer Lawns": So you're sitting back, chilling as this sleek, darkly beautiful Mitchell joint oozes from the speakers. From the 1975 album of the same name, the song opens with an almost hypnotic bass line as the iconic singer-songwriter, one of my all-time favorites, spins a poetic tale of a woman caught up in a loveless, materialistic life.
Roy Ayers, "Searching": A Quiet Storm gem by the Los Angeles-born jazz-funk king: Hey butterfly up in the sky / I gotta story to say / And I tell you why / I'm searching ... This chilled-out number first appeared on his 1976 Vibrations LP and has since been sampled dozens of times. Erykah Badu redid it on Live, her 1997 CD. Her version was nice, but it doesn't top Ayers' original: an inviting, mystical tune that complements the honey-gold sun slipping down the sky.