Rodney - Soul Survivor

Rodney

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The artist known as Rodney the Soul Singer gives listeners a lot of different voices on his new CD, The Soul Survivor. In the background, listeners hear file audio recordings of David Ruffin, Shepherd Smith and Howard Cosell, just to name a few. Rodney quotes scripture, and he assumes the vocal personas of Sam Cooke, Ruffin, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Ronald Isley. In fact, Rodney’s voice stands out as the one constant on a record that is tribute, history lesson, piece of auditory performance art and political statement. In a way, The Soul Survivor has the feel of one of those mixed media art pieces that combines painting, drawing and words and pictures taken from newspapers and magazines. At first glance, it appears that the piece has a thrown together quality with no discernible theme. However, a motif begins to emerge after closer inspection.

The artist known as Rodney the Soul Singer gives listeners a lot of different voices on his new CD, The Soul Survivor. In the background, listeners hear file audio recordings of David Ruffin, Shepherd Smith and Howard Cosell, just to name a few. Rodney quotes scripture, and he assumes the vocal personas of Sam Cooke, Ruffin, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Ronald Isley. In fact, Rodney’s voice stands out as the one constant on a record that is tribute, history lesson, piece of auditory performance art and political statement. In a way, The Soul Survivor has the feel of one of those mixed media art pieces that combines painting, drawing and words and pictures taken from newspapers and magazines. At first glance, it appears that the piece has a thrown together quality with no discernible theme. However, a motif begins to emerge after closer inspection.

The pattern becomes clear on the tune “PST,” the album’s midway point. This track features someone flipping through the stations on a radio dial. With each stop, listeners hear the original news broadcasts of the demise of great male singers while the opening bars of Isaac Hayes’ version of “Never Can Say Goodbye” play in a recurring loop. The immortal roll call of ‘soul’ men includes news accounts or remembrances of artists including Redding, Teddy Pendergrass, Cooke, Gaye, George Harrison, Billy Preston, Donny Hathaway, James Brown, Luther Vandross Ruffin, and Eddie Kendricks.  The tribute includes Howard Cosell’s famous announcement of John Lennon’s assassination during a Dec. 8, 1980 Monday Night Football game in Miami. The tune ends with Shep Smith’s announcement of Michael Jackson’s death in 2009. By the time the listener reaches “PST,” it becomes clear that Rodney wants his listeners to understand that a host of great soul singers have taken their final bows. The deaths also marked the end a style of singing that many fans view as more harmonic, honest and muscular.

By naming the album The Soul Survivor, Rodney seeks to align himself with that generation of vocalists, even though hip hop influenced production techniques and swagger course through the numbers “Cry” and “Pleasures.” Both songs successfully strike the balance between the old school and the new breed because Rodney’s vocals carry the weight and passion of the old singers he so clearly admires. A third attempt at old/new fusion, the bedroom ballad “Vegas,” is a far less compelling. The music has a repetitive quality, the drum programming is unimaginative and Rodney’s vocals seemed restrained by this over-produced song. That becomes even clearer while listening to the excellent ensuing cut, the dramatic torch song “Wanting U.” The joint starts with Rodney singing unaccompanied. The vocal harmonies and musical accompaniment merge with the lead vocalist as the song builds to its crescendo.

The harmony featured on this album stand out as one of The Soul Survivor’s virtues. Many critics say that quality vocal harmonies are few and far between in a lot of modern R&B music, but The Soul Survivor brims with tight harmonies. Those harmonies can be heard in the ballad “Let U Go,” theymake the hook in “Girl I Need You Right Now,” pop and they effectively give “Cry” that late 1960s/early 1970s feel.

Sampling is one new school technique featured on The Soul Survivor. However, Rodney deviates from the beaten path in his search for material to sample. The mid-tempo love song “Choose U” features slice of Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the standard “Why Did I Choose You” that was featured on his 1985 posthumous release “Romantically Yours.”

The album’s title The Soul Survivor is a play on a phrase that means that someone is the last one standing. While there are other singers who unabashedly lift the soul banner, nobody will ask Rodney to step out of line when he stakes his claim to the mantle. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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