Shake off winter with tunes for spring


April 13, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

So long, winter blues. And take that ugly, leaden sky and mean, chilly winds with you. I'm in love with spring. She's much nicer and oh so pretty. With her sweet cherry blossoms and inviting sunbeams, spring inspires all things romantic. Now that she's around, there's a brilliant sheen to everything. Even the dust on my furniture seems to sparkle.

And the music sounds fresher, including the old stuff. To celebrate this annual love affair with my favorite season, here are a few singles, old and new, recommended for your iPod.

Van Hunt, "Suspicion (She Knows Me Too Well)" and "No Sense of Crime"

It's hard to pick one or two cuts from Hunt's new album, the slam-good On the Jungle Floor. The CD, the follow-up to his self-titled 2004 debut, bests its solid if slightly self-conscious predecessor, which favored a more laid-back, incense-and-candles mood. This time around, though, the multi-instrumentalist ups the funk considerably while maintaining the intelligent sensitive-soul-man vibe that made his first record such a refreshing breeze.

These two songs are among the highlights on Jungle Floor. "Suspicion" is a clean, lean, bottom-heavy jam rightly seasoned with punchy horns and funky guitar fills reminiscent of Prince circa 1985's Around the World in a Day. With its low, rumbling bass line and trippy vocals, "No Sense of Crime" is an old Stooges song filtered through vintage Sly Stone. Because of his tight musicianship and organic, genre-be-damned approach, Van Hunt is one of few newer artists who excites me these days. He's definitely one to watch.

Sonya Kitchell, "Train" and "Can't Get You Out of My Mind"

Here's another new artist to keep on your radar. Her impressive debut, Words Came Back to Me, was released last week as part of Starbucks' Hear Music Debut series. And it's hard to believe she's only 17. The Joni Mitchell-influenced Massachusetts native is a dynamite singer-songwriter-guitarist with an assured, jazz-inflected, blues-dusted approach to folk. Her subtly soulful delivery recalls Norah Jones and Joss Stone at times, but Kitchell is more sophisticated. And she seems more sincere and emotionally invested. Perhaps that's because she writes all of her material. The aforementioned cuts are shimmering standouts, but the whole album is worth owning.

Anthony Hamilton, "The Truth"

If you are one of the million people who bought Hamilton's 2003 breakthrough, Comin' From Where I'm From, then you won't be disappointed with his latest effort, the superior Ain't Nobody Worryin'. The marriage of his grainy, Bill Withers-inspired vocals and modern R&B production techniques is better realized here. My favorite cut is track five, "The Truth," a graceful floater about unwavering devotion to his wife: "If you take a lil' walk with me/Girl, I'll lead you to the truth/And if you never give up on me/Girl, I'll share it all with you." A down-home celebration of black love, something urban radio needs more of.

Prince, "The Word"

The Purple One's new album, 3121, isn't in the league with 1987's masterful Sign `O' the Times, but it's still a stellar set. The funk is more upfront as exemplified on this sexy number. Prince's laid-back delivery heightens the percussion-heavy, jazz-funk arrangement.

LeRoy Hutson, "It's Different"

This is a dreamy, midtempo number from the Newark, N.J., native's 1975 LP, Hutson. Woefully overlooked in its original release on Curtis Mayfield's famed Curtom label, the album has since garnered a cult-like following among the "rare grooves" crowd. (Hutson's current fandom is especially strong in England and Japan.) Erykah Badu and Too $hort are among several "neo-soul" and hip-hop performers who have sampled Hutson. Imaginatively arranged with a rolling groove, "It's Different" is evocative of an easy April day when the sun breaks through after the rain.

Aretha Franklin, "Day Dreaming"

The Queen of Soul is for all seasons. But this 1972 bossa nova-kissed tune (perhaps the best song she ever wrote) is a gorgeous jewel, one of many in her crown. In the past three years or so, ultra smooth vocalists Maysa and Will Downing have re-recorded it. Before them, on 1998's The Tour, Mary J. Blige flatly wailed her way through a version of it. But of course, none top the original with its eerie keyboard intro (played by the proud Detroiter herself) and whimsical flute lines (courtesy of the great Hubert Laws). Legend has it that "Day Dreaming" was inspired by Aretha's affair with former Temptations lead man Dennis Edwards. To paraphrase one of the soul diva's greatest hits, homeboy must have given her "something she could feel." The Queen croons: "I wanna be what he wants/When he wants it/And whenever he needs it/When he's lonesome and feeling love-starved/I'll be there to feed it." A perfect song for spring's sweetheart weather.

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