Rahsaan Patterson is in fine `Spirits'

ON POPULAR MUSIC

October 04, 2007|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

As I sit down with Rahsaan Patterson to discuss his new album, the brilliant Wines & Spirits, it seems appropriate that he and I have a glass of one or the other. Besides, it's getting close to happy hour anyway.

"Pinot grigio?" the R&B singer suggests.

"Cool with me," I say, scanning the menu.

On a recent sun-drenched Friday evening in downtown Washington, Patterson and I are tucked in a corner of the Doubletree Hotel's restaurant. The L.A.-based artist is in town to promote the CD. He sits across from me, dressed casually in loose-fitting jeans and a thin lemon-yellow sweater. Silver bangles clink on his wrists every time he moves his tattooed hands. The singer's wide, Colgate grin is the same as the ever-present one he wore on the neon '80s TV show Kids Incorporated, where he, a young Fergie and other youthful wannabe pop stars sang hits of the day.

"Do you cringe watching those old clips on YouTube?" I ask.

The singer-songwriter rolls his eyes. "The comments people leave make me cringe," he says.

Even on that hopelessly lame kids show, his vocal gift was evident. Over the years, of course, Patterson has become far more sophisticated musically. He has written hits for Brandy and Tevin Campbell but has yet to score any smashes of his own.

Still, his previous three albums -- Rahsaan Patterson (1997), Love in Stereo (1999) and After Hours (2004) -- were well-received critically. Make no mistake: Rahsaan Patterson is the real deal. A nakedly emotional vocalist -- rare among today's posturing R&B male singers -- the native New Yorker boasts an impressive range. He can plunge to rich depths and easily soar to a crystal falsetto. And his music is often smart, progressive, suffused with funk and jazzy nuances.

On Wines & Spirits, released this month on Patterson's Artistry Music label, the singer pushes his vocals over spacious arrangements.

"As a singer, music is very much about spirit," he says, sipping his wine. "As I'm singing, other spirits come in and dictate which voice I'm gonna sing in."

He elaborates on the album title: "I remember growing up Pentecostal in my family's church in New York, singing in church and always being fascinated with the whole concept of wines and spirits and the Holy Ghost," he says. "Then, there's the secular realm. As a kid, I remember seeing wines and spirits on liquor stores. I knew there was some kind of connection. My process has been trying to find the balance of the spirit and the secular and find a happy place without the torment."

Exuberance shines through most of the new CD. "Stop Breaking My Heart," the first single, may be lyrically wistful, but Patterson's soft, flirty vocals turn it into a glowing, breezy slice of pop-soul. Elsewhere, he amps up the funk. "Cloud 9," which opens the album, filters Fresh-era Sly Stone through a programmed, percolating arrangement. Wines & Spirits also shows Patterson at his most adventurous. "Pitch Black," the bleakest moment on the CD, is a dread-filled number that's equal parts Prince and the Cure with its simple, throbbing bass line and crying electric guitars.

"I've always been adventurous," Patterson says. "But I don't think a lot of people were ready for my insanity, you know?"

There's nothing inaccessible about Patterson's music. Aside from his expressive voice, I have always been attracted to the openness of his approach. As kaleidoscopic as his direction often is, his albums always coalesce somehow. Wines & Spirits is no different. It may not be as immediate as his other efforts, but it is deeper and richly revealing. It ends with a moving interpretation of Janis Ian's "Stars."

"That's like a period on where I've been in my career," Patterson says of the ballad. "This album is like four years of college, and I feel like I'm graduating with honors."

He finishes his glass of wine, smiles and says, "Whatever the outcome, I'm cool with it. This is my art, reflective of my talent. This is my truth."

And soul-music lovers everywhere thank you for being yourself. Again.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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