Cool Million - III (2012)

Cool Million
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Producers can pursue a couple of strategies when looking to capture the sound and spirit of a certain era: They can surround themselves with vocalists who created hit records during the era in question, or they can fuse new artists with those old school instruments and production techniques. The European based production team of Frank Ryle and Rob Hardt has used both strategies with their band Cool Million. The duo opted for the first option on Back for More, their sophomore effort. Guest performers included a who’s who of 1980s smooth R&B. Two of the bigger stars from the 1980s participating on that project were Eugene Wilde and Meli’sa Morgan. But on III, Cool Million's latest project, Ryle and Hardt flip the script, tapping a core of European vocalists while limiting their dependence on American R&B legends. The result is largely the same.

Producers can pursue a couple of strategies when looking to capture the sound and spirit of a certain era: They can surround themselves with vocalists who created hit records during the era in question, or they can fuse new artists with those old school instruments and production techniques. The European based production team of Frank Ryle and Rob Hardt has used both strategies with their band Cool Million. The duo opted for the first option on Back for More, their sophomore effort. Guest performers included a who’s who of 1980s smooth R&B. Two of the bigger stars from the 1980s participating on that project were Eugene Wilde and Meli’sa Morgan. But on III, Cool Million's latest project, Ryle and Hardt flip the script, tapping a core of European vocalists while limiting their dependence on American R&B legends. The result is largely the same. Like its predecessor, III is a record that captures the sound and feel of early to mid 1980s records by groups such as Starpoint, D-Train and Atlantic Starr.  

III sports tracks of varied tempos on a project that explores the era’s favored topic – love and relationships. The smooth “The You In Me” is a track that could be a radio hit now as well as in the 1980s. The tune sports Mtume-styled programmed drum beats as well as lyrics that tell a story of erotic attraction without showing too much. This track is aided greatly by singer Bashiyra, who knows when to coo in order to draw the listener in emotionally and when to let loose and turn her instrument into a vehicle that delivers a musical climax. 1980s acts considered it a professional failure if they didn’t get hips wiggling on the dance floor. And those up-tempo cuts worked to spark an attraction that opened the door for a track such as “The You In Me” to work it’s magic.

III provides listeners with plenty of opportunities to sweat till they get wet. One such example takes place when Ryle and Hardt hand the mic to 1980s soul veteran Peggi Blu on “What About You,” an infectious fusion of funk and dance music that finds Blu deciding to simplify her life through being true herself. The track is one of those anthems of female independence that were staples of 1980s radio and belie the belief that the era’s R&B had a one-track mind.

III also shines the spotlight on some strong male singers. Jono McNeil adds vocals that range from husky to near falsetto on “Peace of Mind,” while Kenny Thomas shows that he can beg with the best of them on the dance floor on the up-tempo “Without Your Love.”

Critics often dissed the music of the 80s. Some blanched at the digital sound that replaced drums and horns. Others complained about what they felt was a lightweight lyrical content. For a while, it appeared that the views of those critics were ascendant, as old school radio ignored a lot of music from the era. A listener could go years without hearing some jams from bands such as The Deele. Slowly, that is beginning to change as programmers include more early to mid 1980s music on their playlists. So now appears to be a fortuitous time for a group such as Cool Million to make what’s old new again. III reminds us that this music had virtues that often were ignored by critics. The tunes on III are fun, and sport melodies that dare you to not to dance. Music serves many purposes: Composers, lyricists and vocalist often use music to rally people to a cause and speak truth to those in power. We need that. However, we also need artists who make music that compels the listener to turn the knob all the way up and shake his or her booty in the driver seat. That’s a niche that Cool Million fills on III. – and they fill it very well. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

 

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