Review: Silk Rhodes

Silk Rhodes
Silk Rhodes
Stones Throw Records

Silk Rhodes, the self-titled debut to be released Dec. 2 on Stones Throw Records, comes across like a  red light basement house party, or a cassette pause tape from the ’70s or ’80s. It’s warm and informal, like crackles in a record.  The mystical brew of retro soul,  bare bones song construction, and pretty falsetto hooks take you on a trip. It is that tiny tab of some sort, resting on a tongue, that is on the group’s album cover. Silk Rhodes, which in name sounds like a long-lost blues singer, is a two-piece soul group composed of singers Michael Collins and Sasha Desree, both Baltimore natives.

photoThe duo has more than the obvious sounds and smells that would indicate Prince is a heavy influence. If you remember, early Prince had a schtick to get himself out of the “next Stevie Wonder” category. Enter the raincoat and women’s lingerie.

But with Silk Rhodes–and I’m not calling it a schtick–they understood all the musical references that would be put upon them. As a friend of mine once said, it’s OK, if you are stealing from the right people. And Silk Rhodes does just that.

Put into the food-processor Beck’s Midnite Vultures, any early to mid-’80s Prince record, Jamie Lidell’s 2005 song “Multiply,” a few 45s by The Delphonics, and a couple of Prince Paul comedic interludes for seasoning, and click on the “puree” setting.

It would produce the most tasty smoothie, a blue-eyed soul mix-tape that just happens to contain beautifully constructed ballads about meeting up and breaking up. It is never clear what point in a relationship Silk Rhodes is referencing. All you are sure of is that good and bad things did happen.

The songs “Pains,” “This Painted World,” and “Hold Me Down” showcase how less can become so much more in the production booth. But that transformation can only work if you are talented. And that it can only work if you are talented. They are. The song “Face 2 Face” is a bouncy disco-boogie track that was showcased in the Stones Throw documentary, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton. And the standout, “The System,” is the best Sade composition that she never wrote.

Stones Throw Records, an indie label started in 1996 by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf (a.k.a. Chris Manak), has been at the helm of finding, producing, and releasing quality hip-hop, boogie, disco and modern soul. In the past, the label has released music by Dam-Funk, Homeboy Sandman, James Pants, Mayer Hawthorne, Aloe Blacc, Myron & E, Madlib, Chrome Canyon, and so forth. It seems that the only logarithm to the label’s success is good music.  They have been, and still are, quite the prodigious lot in anticipating what is next….and then finding the proper representative artist for it.

Add Silk Rhodes to that impressive line-up. And don’t be surprised to see this debut on the “Best of 2014” lists of many critics, as well.