Cool Million - Stronger (2019)

Cool Million
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Cool Million - Stronger

On their fifth full-length album, Stronger, Cool Million continue to deliver classic-sounding grooves fronted by strong vocalists with warm melodies and enticing lyrics. Some selections stick to the template of at once retro and modern polished soul arrangements underscored with R&B- and disco-fueled tracks—which they’ve been noted for since 2008. The production duo, however, also delves into the electro-funk realm on several cuts, while exploring the slow-jam quotient more widely than on previous efforts. Furthermore, unlike most of the preceding sets, the focus here shifts from longstanding vocalists to up-and-coming artists.

Cool Million - Stronger

On their fifth full-length album, Stronger, Cool Million continue to deliver classic-sounding grooves fronted by strong vocalists with warm melodies and enticing lyrics. Some selections stick to the template of at once retro and modern polished soul arrangements underscored with R&B- and disco-fueled tracks—which they’ve been noted for since 2008. The production duo, however, also delves into the electro-funk realm on several cuts, while exploring the slow-jam quotient more widely than on previous efforts. Furthermore, unlike most of the preceding sets, the focus here shifts from longstanding vocalists to up-and-coming artists.

Stronger opens with the bubbling title track, penned by frontmen Rob Hardt and Frank Ryle with backing singer David Tobin and featuring the lead vocal prowess of James “D-Train” Williams. The motivational lyrics are a bit on the clichéd side, but D-Train instills them with an unmistakable grit that drives the uptempo arrangement to a most satisfying musical destination. “Stronger” is followed by the edgier “I Love the Way You Fly,” spotlighting singer-songwriter Claus Seest, who debuted several years ago on Ryle’s eponomous side project. He glides with assured smoothness and engaging enthusiasm over the funky rhythm arrangement. Subsequently, newcomer Jasmine Franklin makes a solid impression with the jazzy and sassy “Queen Sugar.” “Clap your hands, go on and stamp your feet/Shake your hips in a size 32, 6 D’s,” she beckons, then proclaiming, “Universe responds to her energy…sage bundles, eternal light, daily remedy.” Go ahead!

Rachel Matthews heads up perhaps the sultriest moment on Stronger: the alluring “Skintight.” With a soft and sexy style that fits like a glove over the sleek melody, she embodies the essence of an unassuming, natural chanteuse who can seduce merely with the right mix of phrasing and tone. Kevin East then serves up a fitting male counterpart on the go-go-groovin’ “Sexability.”

The second half of Strongeris primarily comprised of slow-jams and midtempo numbers. While these benefit from the addition of live instrumentation and romantic vocal vibes, the arrangements aren’t overall as cohesive as those of the uptempo tracks. Still, the lead performers largely make up for any musical shortcomings. Yolonda Lavender offers a lovely conveyance of hope and peace on “No Matter What,” a gently grooving gem hampered only slightly by a quasi-horn section. While David Tobin’s Teddy Pendergrass-inspired turn on “Come Back Home” is plausible, it’s not quite enough to overcome the menadering melodies and somewhat barren production. Janus Soiland fares better on the airy “Share the Light,” boosted by a hip-hop-etched rhythm pattern and tight bass and guitar work by Ernie McKone and Maic Burkhardt, respectively.

Stronger is a well-conceived next chapter in the Cool Million story. While several recent contemporaries honing in on the classic R&B boogie sound prevalent during the 1980s have since come and gone, Hardt and Ryle have continued to remain relevant with a tried and true approach. Expanding their sound hasn’t come without a few bumps in the road; but all in all, they’ve done a fine job here of remaining faithful to their core musical mission while keeping things fresh. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 
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