Morris Mills - The Dawn (2019)

Morris Mills
morris_mills_the_dawn.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Morris Mills - The Dawn

It’s not surprising that an artist who is as deeply influenced by Prince as Morris Mills would chafe at the genre limits and expectations imposed on black artists by the music industry. Prince used his determination and talent to force fans and music executives to rethink the way that they viewed and marketed what would be normally labeled as R&B. Those racialized labels and genres became clay in Prince’s hands that he reworked into the form of his choosing.

Mills finds himself pushing against the same constraints with his latest album, The Dawn, a record that is a Princely cauldron of funk, rock, punk, R&B with a dash of hip-hop. The Dawn shares an additional commonality with much of Prince’s work, in that Mills’ art resides comfortably at the intersection between the sacred and the worldly.

Morris Mills - The Dawn

It’s not surprising that an artist who is as deeply influenced by Prince as Morris Mills would chafe at the genre limits and expectations imposed on black artists by the music industry. Prince used his determination and talent to force fans and music executives to rethink the way that they viewed and marketed what would be normally labeled as R&B. Those racialized labels and genres became clay in Prince’s hands that he reworked into the form of his choosing.

Mills finds himself pushing against the same constraints with his latest album, The Dawn, a record that is a Princely cauldron of funk, rock, punk, R&B with a dash of hip-hop. The Dawn shares an additional commonality with much of Prince’s work, in that Mills’ art resides comfortably at the intersection between the sacred and the worldly.

Mills includes a prophetic warning into “Freedom,” his protest anthem that demands that the larger society examine the reasons why a black man might feel some kind of way about standing for the National Anthem. “Freedom” is the best track on The Dawn for the way that it mingles funk bass lines, slashing guitar solos, modern technology such as drum machines and polemical lyrics, ending with a sermonic rendering of the obstacles faced by black people that belie any claim that we are truly free.

“Don’t Cry Jamie” could be considered a Christian funk/rock song, where Mills implores someone who has suffered the most personal and painful loss to seek comfort in prayer. The track even includes Mills reciting a passage from the Gospel of John, 14: 1-3, that is often read at funerals. And for something totally different, there is “U and I Should Be Together.” The cut is a punk/funk torch song that contains all of the unrequited love and angst that the Purple One put into classics such as “When You Were Mine.”

A cover of Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” stands as one of the high points of Mills’ 2018 album Protégé, and the bouncy funk that Mills gives his rendition of “She’s Always in My Hair” shows that he knows how to pay homage to his musical hero. The slashing rock guitars and the autotune vocals both work by adding a bit of distortion that distinguishes Mills version from the original. Mills also scores by tapping into the memory banks of fans of 1980s era new wave punk with his cover of Modern English’s “Stop the World.” That song was originally titled “Melt With You.” Not everything works. The autotune on “2 Nite We Make Love” came off as overkill and distracting.

It’s hard to believe that Prince passed away nearly three years ago. His imprint and influence continues to inspire and cast a very large shadow. There will never be another. But if those inspired by him are to be judged, it will be on the basis of their musicianship, artistry and their willingness to blast through whatever boundaries and limits placed before them. On that score, Mills is a worthy protégé. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
Song of the Month - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Featured Album - Nichelle Colvin - Welcome to Gary
Featured Album - Rahsaan Patterson - Heroes & Gods

Leave a comment!