Author: Richard Marcus — Published: Feb 28, 2008 at 8:25 am
Aside from all the obvious reasons for hating disco, one of the biggest crimes perpetrated by that supposed musical genre was the way it almost completely obliterated rhythm and blues (R&B). Originally R&B was just what it said it was — the blues with some healthy rhythm that made it real perfect for dancing. Soul and funk were its natural extensions, with funk ramping up the voltage and giving it a little bit of an edge, and soul playing up the soft blues angle.
But disco was just a commercialized and sanitized version made safe for kids from the suburbs and sucked the life right out of R&B. Just thinking that anybody would dare mention the great Sam Cooke in the same breath as the Bee Gees is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat and give me the all overs. Even the demise of disco didn't revive R&B, as what tends to be passed off as the genre today is stuff that's only fit for adult easy listening stations.
Finding anyone who claims to play R&B is hard enough anymore, let alone someone who plays something that bears even the remotest resemblance to the music played in the days before drum machines and beat boxes, and before Michael Bolton tore the heart out of it. So whenever it seems that there might even be the slightest of chances that someone is doing their damnedest to row against that particular river I'll not only check them out but give them almost every benefit of doubt known to humankind.
Sweet Angel was born in the cradle of R&B, Memphis, Tennessee, and has been singing and playing music from her days in elementary school. She was such a talented reed player that she won seats in the top ten All West Tennessee Bands and all City Bands for clarinet and saxophone when she was still only in middle school. Of course lots of people show an aptitude for music at a young age and either it means they peaked early or they lack the motivation or drive to parlay it into a career.
Judging by her first recording, Another Man's Meat On My Plate, that's not the case with Sweet Angel. Not only does she apparently have musical talent to spare, she's got the strength of personality and character needed to make that talent come alive when she performs. There are plenty of people who can sing, and there are plenty of people who can play musical instruments, but there are very few people who have that extra quality that compels every eye in the house to focus on them when they walk on stage and begin to play.
Listening to the way Sweet Angel delivers her material on disc, it's easy to see her on stage. You've heard of performers who make each person in their live audience feel as if songs are sung to them personally; that's rare enough, yet Sweet Angel somehow manages to accomplish that on disc. Perhaps it's her choice of material, or that she is without affectation and you just know that what you hear is what you get. Maybe it's her matter-of-fact delivery that makes her sound like she's someone you could just as easily sit and talk with as watch on stage.
Whatever it is, she breaks down that invisible barrier between audience and performer that is so key to making heartfelt music like soul or R&B come to life. So it doesn't matter if she's singing slow and soft as on "Easy Loving You," or laying it on the line for some ex in the hard driving title track "Another Man's Meat On My Plate." (I just have to say I don't think I've heard a better song, with better lyrics or title for a woman to sing in a long time than this track. It was written by a man, Sweet Angel's husband/producer Mike Dobbins, making that notion that even better.)
There are a lot of performers that you might acknowledge for great voices or extraordinary musicianship, but their music and songs are forgettable. To my mind that means the person has cared more about themselves than the song that they perform. That's not the case with Sweet Angel; she's putting all her energies into selling the song and not only does it make the material all the more powerful, in the end it makes her more memorable.
What sticks in my head after listening to her disc is the way she turned a phrase in a particular song that gave it character and personality; that brought the song to life. She has a good, strong voice, which she doesn't waste on pointless pyrotechnics; instead she uses it intelligently to make sure that every word and every line of what she sings is believable. Some people call that selling a song, but you only ever need to sell a song if you don't have the talent to convey what it offers. When you have talent such as Sweet Angel's, you do what you do best and let the song take care of itself.
As all of the material on Another Man's Meat On My Plate was written for Sweet Angel by her husband and producer Mike Dobbins, he's obviously going to be making damn sure that he takes advantage of her strengths. The great thing about the job he's done is that it's obvious that not only does he know Sweet Angel's strengths, but he has enough faith in them that he doesn't mess with them in the post-production. If these two can continue to progress along the path they've started to chart with this first album we can look forward to years more of great R&B music played and sung the way it's meant to be.
Sweet Angel's Another Man's Meat On My Plate is a great first album by an R&B performer worth watching. If you happen to be down in the Tennessee area and you have a chance to check her out live I doubt you'll be disappointed. R&B might not be the force it once was, but with people like Sweet Angel out there it might just be on its way back; and that is a good thing.