Angie Stone - Rich Girl (2012)

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    From Sequence to Vertical Hold to a five million-selling solo career, for over 30 years Angie Stone has been nothing if not a reliable talent. Entering the more seasoned years of her career, Stone still strikes a spirited figure in R&B and traditional soul. More favorite aunt than voluptuous seductress at this point in her legend, Stone inexplicably manages to keep her music current without losing the classic elements that make her an assured buy for fans who have stood by her from “No More Rain (In This Cloud)” to “I Ain’t Hearing You.” With close harmonies, open melodies, and enough familiar love and pain testimonies to maintain Angie’s place in soul royalty, Rich Girl is another competent ribbon break that proves the race is not given to the swift but to those respected underdogs who endureth ‘til the end.

    From Sequence to Vertical Hold to a five million-selling solo career, for over 30 years Angie Stone has been nothing if not a reliable talent. Entering the more seasoned years of her career, Stone still strikes a spirited figure in R&B and traditional soul. More favorite aunt than voluptuous seductress at this point in her legend, Stone inexplicably manages to keep her music current without losing the classic elements that make her an assured buy for fans who have stood by her from “No More Rain (In This Cloud)” to “I Ain’t Hearing You.” With close harmonies, open melodies, and enough familiar love and pain testimonies to maintain Angie’s place in soul royalty, Rich Girl is another competent ribbon break that proves the race is not given to the swift but to those respected underdogs who endureth ‘til the end.

    There are few better at working and knowing the strengths and limitations of their instrument than Angie Stone. She has just enough of everything listeners need to draw you them and keep them around for breakfast. Her deepening alto has just enough raspiness to suggest Gladys Knight, just enough power to reference the church, just enough hip hop to give her street cred, and just enough silk to coat each carefully arranged melody line to maximize the emotional impacts of her familiar relationship messages. While she’s more earthbound that stratospheric in her range, that Stone still has a consistent voice helps prevent this multi-producer/multi-singerwriter project from sliding into the forgettable. Nonetheless, this is not to say Rich Girl is exactly a classic either.

    This project continues Stone’s more recent record for co-penning and co-producing solid material, but the hooks are a little less infectious than those in her halcyon #1 dance hit days of Andrea Martin and Ivan Matias’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” and R&B anthems like “Brotha.” The staple performances of mid-tempo jams like “Alright,” “Rich Girl,” “First Time” and “Right In Front of Me,” are enjoyable, but just shy of must-listen artistry. The bumping music and driving arrangement of such feel-good tracks like Korey Bowie and Demond Mickens’ “Livin’ It Up” certainly arduously work to turn up the eyes on the stove. However, while they’re enough to tease a smile out of you while sitting in traffic, they are not enough to get you to sing along. Channeling Betty Wright in its educational message (“every woman needs a back-up plan”), the Mike City co-created disco funk number “Backup Plan” (with the near-Nile Rogers guitar) does its part to conjure the spirit of Chic but the chorus doesn’t have the Studio 54 swing of an otherwise finger-popping grooveline. Some, like the Corey “Co-T” Tatum co-produced nursery rhyme melody of “I Can Take It” with its vague Motown appeal, don’t even try to win listeners over.

    As with 2009’s Unexpected, ballads here fare better. The retro-soul of Freedom Lyles’ “Guilty” isn’t milked for all its dramatic, cheating heart potential, but it’s still a classic Angie Stone old school cry. A gospel flavored collaborative tune boasting Tweet, Danetra Moore, daughter Diamond Stone and Sunday Best-winner Y’anna Crawley  on “Sisters” walks away with the gold for the song on the album to beat. Pregnant with emotion and a rare project display of impressive vocal range, the ladies push each other on the woman’s anthem to dizzying effect. “Sisters” is the five-finger discount worthy steal of the project. The women’s empowerment hook on Joy Campbell and James Owens’ co-crafted “Proud of Me” and Y’anna Crawley’s co-penned self-care ode, “Do What U Gotta Do,” tie for a “best of” award for choruses worth your money in inspiration. All offer a quiet reminder of what traditional soul music is truly about.   

    With album sales that have steadily declined from her gold-selling early days with Black Diamond and Mahogany Soul, Stone still earns respectable tallies for equally respectable music for fans longing for real instrumentation and tired of the profanity and the needlessly provocative of radio R&B. In a previous review, I once likened Angie Stone’s music to comfort food. This go-round, listeners may not ask for seconds and thirds, but you’ll always leave pleasantly full from Stone’s heaping helpings of timeless musicianship and loads of Stone love. Recommended.

    By L. Michael Gipson

     
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