Carl Thomas - Conquer

Carl Thomas
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Picture it: Dallas, TX, early spring in the year 2000. Hip-hop legend and part-time turntablist-extraordinaire Biz Markie was flexing on the ones and twos, announcing to a hyped crowd that he was about to drop some new music from the Bad Boy label by a Chi-Town artist named Carl Thomas. I took it as my cue to make hit the powder room, turned to leave…..and couldn’t. Instantly, I was transfixed by the velvety vocals, grooving to the mid tempo melody of his first single, “I Wish,” and intrigued by the haunted refrain----“And I wish I never met her, at all, even though, I love her so”---- becoming an enthusiastic and instant fan.

 

Picture it: Dallas, TX, early spring in the year 2000. Hip-hop legend and part-time turntablist-extraordinaire Biz Markie was flexing on the ones and twos, announcing to a hyped crowd that he was about to drop some new music from the Bad Boy label by a Chi-Town artist named Carl Thomas. I took it as my cue to make hit the powder room, turned to leave…..and couldn’t. Instantly, I was transfixed by the velvety vocals, grooving to the mid tempo melody of his first single, “I Wish,” and intrigued by the haunted refrain----“And I wish I never met her, at all, even though, I love her so”---- becoming an enthusiastic and instant fan.

It didn’t take long for others to join me. Amongst his shiny-suited and raucously-rhyming label mates, Mr. Thomas was Bad Boy’s first-ever full-fledged R&B lover man, a performer who combined an old-school methodology of songwriting, sangin’(no typo) and soul-baring vulnerability with a street-savvy sense of cool, making his debut, Emotional, an instant smash. Now, a full decade into his career, Mr. Thomas has enjoyed career highs (gold and platinum CDs, a pair of Grammy nominations); endured personal lows (the untimely death of his older brother in 2004) and label dramas, landing solidly back in the game with his latest and most expansive release yet, Conquer.

What distinguishes a favorite from a flash-in-the-pan is an artist’s ability to remain consistent with quality while evolving as a performer, and Conquer’s eleven tracks demonstrate that truth, neatly separating the edgier, eclectic numbers from his anticipated offerings of sultry R&B. Its first single, “Don’t Kiss Me,” is a lavish, 70s-styled Rico Love production, tenderly pleading atop a celestial doo-wop rhythm that a woman love him fully or leave him alone: “Don’t kiss me, no, unless those lips you kiss me with, say ‘I love you for life’/Don’t touch me, no, unless you promise that those hands will never wave goodbye.” The percolating lamentation, “It Is What It Is,” features lyrical touches from the late Dwight “Heavy D” Meyers and also pairs him with former label mate Mario Winans, hearkening back to his breakout hit, “I Wish” in its unrequited efforts to steal away another man’s lady: “I know, you know, that you shouldn’t be here / go home / I can hear the temptations / it’s calling me now.” “Sweet Love,” courtesy of Mike City, is a lilting lovers’ ballad that conjures visions of seduction, silk sheets and candlelight, while “Round 2,” one of Mr. Thomas’ co-penned tracks with Andre Harris, attaches the wish for a do-over to a rain-mimicking percussive beat and plaintive, subtly auto-tuned croons.

What may catch some CT fans off-guard are the opening tracks, which are a 180-degree turnabout from his usual style, yet polished and offering glimpses of techno-edged pop and rock.  “Long Distance Love Affair,” for example, weighs the pros and cons of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ partner and tosses in a splash of reggae to shore up its undercurrent of pessimism (“And I will call your phone, a thousand times a night, because I want to believe you baby/Wanna believe that you’re at home, alone, even though it ain’t that easy”). The title track is one of his most divergent songs yet, layering anthemic verses of passionate possession against a throbbing, reverb-heavy backdrop that may recall an early version of Seal: “Now you can run, you can hide, but you can’t do nothin’ to change my mind/we may not always see eye to eye, but we’ll always survive.” His first-ever pairing with uber-hot producer, Lee Hutson Jr., results in “The Night Is Yours,” a sleek and self-assured hybrid of techno and electro-styled pop that is anchored by Mr. Thomas’s nimbly-nuanced tenor and promises of an extraordinary evening: “Take the lead, be my guide, I’ll sit back and enjoy the ride…../the night is yours, to you it belongs, it’s not set in stone.”

Four years after the underappreciated So Much Better, it would’ve been safer for Mr. Thomas to exploit his come-hither sex appeal and recycle the Bad Boy era-style that launched him into stardom. Instead, the newly-inspired entertainer reclaims his place as one of modern soul’s best, broadening his range and repertoire to effectively execute some cool and cliché-Conquering R&B. Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

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