I love Lenny Kravitz. I've been listening to him for years. Such a powerhouse of incredible talent. He finally has a new album out after some time. Here's an article from The Daily Collegian talking about "Black and White America":
It appears that 2011 is the year that all of the funky people in the music biz come back from seemingly indomitable half-decade hiatuses. First there was Incubus, then the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and finally, Lenny Kravitz’ long-awaited ninth studio album, the double LP “Black and White America.”
For the fans who have been hanging onto LK’s every word, “Black and White America” is Kravitz’ highly anticipated “funk album” that’s been in the works since before the impromptu songwriting sessions for 2004’s “Baptism.” The result is a hearty helping of a rocking cocktail mixed with funk, old-school soul and classic rock n’ roll.
As per usual, Kravitz is wearing his influences on his sleeve – in turn he once again proves he’s got some of the best taste in mainstream rock. Painting with a palette that includes flavors of James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Prince and everyone in between, “Black and White America” finds sublimity in celebrating the best things about mid-20th century popular music all in one big, groovy package.
While the album incorporates a multitude of genres, Lenny is at his best when he brings the funk – after all, this is the funk album, as he so claims. The album-opening title track sets the tone perfectly for the entire album. Lyrically, it’s an assessment of the progress of social and racial issues through personal spirituality and love. Musically, it’s a straight ahead funk-rock romp, complete with a pop-slap bassline and Kravitz’ trademark stellar rhythm guitar work.
As the album continues, Kravitz consistently proves he can’t miss with the funk, no matter how diverse the approach. In “Superlove,” he deftly melds the R&B funk of The Brothers Johnson with the sensual approach of Barry White, and essentially defines what sexy sounds like by gently laying 12-string acoustic guitar work over a gyrating slap bassline. Later, he faithfully channels The Meters in the New Orleans style funk of “Life Ain’t Ever Been Better Than it is Now,” punched up a notch with a jazzy horn solo by Kravitz’ friend Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.
While the album is clearly dominated by Kravitz’ strong grasp on the compelling power of funk, he flies his rocker flag plenty as well. This is aided greatly by his longtime collaborator/songwriting partner Craig Ross, who lays down excellent lead guitar work across the board. Hard-rocking lead single “Come On, Get It” is not only enough to make you bang your head, but also a worthy tribute to the legends of the virtuoso riffing and string-shredding solos, evoking the influence of guitar gods such as Paige and Hendrix. “Rock Star City Life” and “Everything” are just a couple more examples of riffing hard first and asking questions later.
While Kravitz mostly sticks to his funk-rock guns, he goes outside the box here and there as well on “Black and White America.” The bluesy desperation of “Looking Back On Love” not only sufficiently changes up the pace of the album, it also features an eyebrow-raising minute-long keyboard solo that sounds plucked right out of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon sessions. “In The Black” features a synth-textured, almost New-Wave-meets-modern-soul drive, slightly reminiscent of Kravitz’ late 90’s/early 2000’s work. While the quirky “Liquid Jesus” may not be the strongest number, it is perhaps better that Kravitz errs on the side of quirkiness than stagnancy.
Lenny’s softer side shows up as well, and in strong form, on the second half of the album. As he shifts the focus from gritty, guitar-based tunes to piano-based ballads, he notably varies up the influences he’s sporting. The heart wrenchingly melodic strains of “Dream” and the gospel-infused “The Faith of a Child” show his obvious affinity for John Lennon by combining delicate melody with optimistic conviction and a hope for change. The power ballad, “I Can’t Be Without You” almost sports a Muse-like tone, merging rock solid rhythm with a desperate but soaring vocal line punctuated by twinkled piano counterpoint.
The one upsetting thing about “Black and White America” is it momentarily goes wrong where Kravitz has done exceedingly well in the past. While past guest artist collaborations range from rock legend Slash’s blistering guitar work on 1991’s “Mama Said” to Jay-Z’s rapid-fire contribution to the track “Storm” on 2004’s “Baptism,” the two tracks featuring guest musicians on “Black and White America” unfortunately fall flat on their face. “Sunflower,” featuring Drake, feels like a hollow pop song, without the added benefit of having a substantial hook. And “Boongie Drop,” featuring a return visit from Jay-Z, comes off as an uninspired attempt at modern R&B/hip-hop. It’s not that pop and modern R&B are outside of Lenny’s arsenal – it’s simply a swing and a miss here, perhaps breaking a tad too much with the otherwise throwback feel of this album.
Overall, “Black and White America” more than lives up to the expectations that have been building for this album since nearly a decade ago, and that is not an easy task. Lyrically, the album both challenges and reposes within a modern society’s ability to rectify social issues through the spiritual redemption of love. Thus, it is conceptually able to match the lushness and expressiveness found in the accompanying music’s amalgamation of rock n’ roll, soul, classic R&B and of course, funk.
Dave Coffey can be reached at email@example.com.