Over the weekend, soulhead founder Ron Worthy and I attended a macaroni and cheese competition hosted by mutual friends. The winner of the overall competition took awards in key categories, most notably the one for comfort. As one of the judges declared, the winning entry was “delicious and a little on edge” yet was “still the mac and cheese you’d want to be eating on a cold winter’s night.”
Those were my thoughts when listening to Black and White America, the most recent album from singer-songwriter-musician Lenny Kravitz. It’s Kravitz’s first album in three years, a timespan that’s seen the artist delve into acting with roles in the Academy Award-winning Precious and this summer’s upcoming blockbuster The Hunger Games. Don’t let the hiatus from music and focus on acting fool you, though. Lenny hasn’t lost his touch at all.
Originally to be titled Negrophilia, Black and White America is exactly what you’d expect from Kravitz—an amalgamation of funk, rock, soul, and pop, all wrapped up into a neat little package. Like this past weekend’s winning macaroni and cheese, the album is a delicious serving of aural comfort food. While it still retains a bit of edge, it’s the sort of output we want to hear from Kravitz.
As usual, Kravitz sticks to familiar themes: love, faith, hope. This go round, as the album title implies, there’s a notable focus on race relations in America. While Kravitz doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the topic, there’s an overwhelming sense of optimism throughout the disc.
“Black and White America” : B+
The title track is a funk workout in which Kravitz sings about the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and details the tribulations his parents endured as an interracial married couple. Despite the heaviness of the topics, the song is supremely uplifting.
“Come On Get It” : B-
Kravitz keeps the funk moving but adds a little rock n’ roll flavor to this track, which boasts hard hitting drums and menacing guitar licks.
“In The Black”: B
The playful synths on this guitar-driven pop-rock song give it a very 80s feel.
“Liquid Jesus”: B+
A sultry, soulful meditation on finding salvation through love. Reminds me of Marvin Gaye. An album highlight.
“Rock Star City Life”: C+
As a standalone track, this punk-inspired song may have been tolerable but here it simply feels out of place.
“Boongie Drop” (featuring Jay-Z and DJ Military): B
A dub-influenced song celebrating ladies’ bodies (and the way they move). Jigga is on cruise control but, in a foreshadowing of his declaration to stop using certain epithets to describe women, he delivers a profanity free verse.
A rather earnest slice of pop-rock peppered with wah-wah guitars. Doesn’t quite work for me. In fact, I found it to be a bit grating.
The album makes a welcome return to slow-grooving funk. Another one of my favorites.
Kravitz serves up some great guitar work on this energetic track.
“I Can’t Be Without You”: B-
Your typical arena rock ballad. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s not too memorable, either. It’s just kind of there.
“Looking Back On Love”: B+
A sexy, almost jazzy song that reminisces on past love while searching for new love . Kinda experimental, but it’s a definite groove.
“Life Ain’t Ever Been Better Than It Is Now”: B
This track finds Kravitz thanking the Lord for all his blessings. Gratitude has never sounded so funky.
“Faith of a Child”: B+
A midtempo, gospel-tinged ballad in which Kravitz implores all of us to just have a little faith.
“Sunflower” (featuring Drake): B
With its busy drums, horns, and disco whistles, how this track never became a summer anthem is beyond me. Drake stops by for a serviceable verse, but the song would have fared well without it.
Yet another song full of hope and optimism, but I found it too slow and plodding. Almost narcoleptic.
Kravitz ends the album nicely with a moving, inspirational, and uplifting jam.
Overall Grade: B
Our Recommendation: MODERATE BUY
Our Favorite Tracks: “Black and White America,” “Liquid Jesus,” “Superlove,” “Faith of a Child”
Black and White America is an anomaly as far as current mainstream music is concerned. Bereft of both cynicism and narcissism, it carries a true message of hope and has an old school vibe that makes one think of Sly and the Family Stone or 70s-era Stevie Wonder. And while he’s not pushing the envelope sonically, Kravitz is at least meeting our musically expectations and giving us that comfort food we expect.
What are your thoughts on Black and White America?
Download the free MP3 Mixtape “Black and White America” here.
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