Shaun Escoffery - In The Red Room (2014)

Shaun Escoffery
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Honoring tradition and embodying modern cultural savvy, Shaun Escoffery's third full-length release, In the Red Room, is a hallmark of multi-generational soul music. Whether examining the constant state of uncertainty in today's political and social affairs, or surveying the eternal ins and outs of romantic commitment, Escoffery is firm and consistent in his observations and surefire vocal execution. Blessed with wide-spanning note and tonal ranges that parallel the lyrical and melodic scope of his compositions, he exhibits an at-ease confidence that sets him apart from many contemporaries.

Honoring tradition and embodying modern cultural savvy, Shaun Escoffery's third full-length release, In the Red Room, is a hallmark of multi-generational soul music. Whether examining the constant state of uncertainty in today's political and social affairs, or surveying the eternal ins and outs of romantic commitment, Escoffery is firm and consistent in his observations and surefire vocal execution. Blessed with wide-spanning note and tonal ranges that parallel the lyrical and melodic scope of his compositions, he exhibits an at-ease confidence that sets him apart from many contemporaries.

"When will you learn it's not all about the money you earn?" he croons with straightforward grit on the opening "Nature's Call," bolstered by a deceptively festive arrangement of jazzy horns and buoyant drum lines. "Ball breakers, money-takers…public-school debaters…the drug-pushers and the traders" are among the aciculate characters to whom Escoffery calls out for change. Employing both a rich falsetto and gutsy lower tenor delivery, he gets the message across loud and clear. Contrastingly, it's with a cool and raspy tone that he glides through the narration of his own experiences as a lost soul finally found on the flowery "Perfect Love Affair." The symphonic washes of strings and majestic flute flourishes of Jake Telford surround the vocals with a fittingly grand vibe.

Taking a bluesy turn, Escoffery brings a combination of desperation and ecstasy to the forefront on "Nobody Knows," a slow-motion tale of an all-consuming, unspoken passion. "Crazy," subsequently, injects a funky drive into the stratosphere as he breaks down the details of an over-demanding, never-satisfied partner. "I'm spendin' my life tryin' to chill you out and explainin' where I have been…You're gonna drive a man away, 'cause no one's gonna take this sh** all day." The scenario is not an unfamiliar one, but Escoffery's calmly assertive demeanor in relaying it is refreshing.

The reflection and prospect of change found on "Nature's Call" resurfaces on the hopeful "People." "Whether young or old, we've all got soul," Escoffery attests, giving encouragement that the world can rise above "people suffering, fightin' for the things that should be free." As the acoustic intro lifts into a celebratory, Stax-inspired groove, overcoming the obstacles feels wholly possible. The tone is not so optimistic, however, on the downtempo "Gotta Be More Than This." "Unspoken dangers, no smiles, just strangers…Do you wonder why fear's got them burnin' with rage?" The sobering feeling of instability is given reverence through the heavy, guitar-fueled arrangement and Escoffery's heart-on-his-sleeve falsetto rendering of the inner turmoil left by hatred and inequality.

Towards the close of In the Red Room, there's a mood of calm and renewed energy. Both the swingin' funk of "Get Over," a self-motivation anthem, and the quietly reassuring "By Your Side" find Escoffery displaying appealing textures of his tenor range—applying a comfortable gusto on the former track (brightened again by Jake Telford, this time on sax) and an understated, yet gritty, demeanor on the latter.

Well worth the seven-year wait since Escoffery's previous album, 2007's Move into Soul, In the Red Room is the cream of modern soul vocalizing and songwriting. Many aspire to the level of authenticity and solid strength found here, but fall short somewhere along the way. If fairness plays any part in quality music reaching the masses these days, then Escoffery will reach new commercial heights with In the Red Room. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor

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