- The agony and ecstasy of Moodymann.
- Kenny Dixon Jr. has the most memorable voice in modern dance music. The handful of interviews he's given have been sampled for a number of ill-conceived dance floor cuts. It's fitting then that over the years, Dixon Jr. is increasingly voluble on his own records. On his 2008 track "Freeki Mutha F cker," he dryly alternated between come ons and deadpan jokes. His self-titled 2014 album was shot through with the same lascivious sense of humor, Dixon Jr. fronting a varied house band. Even still, Dixon Jr.'s latest album, Taken Away, feels like house music's Wizard Of Oz stepping out from behind the curtain. Across ten tracks spanning gospel, house and hip-hop, he runs us through the highs and lows of life as Moodymann.
Like most larger-than-life stars, many of Dixon Jr.'s problems are romantic. "Do Wrong" finds our protagonist in church praying a lover will change their ways. These efforts continue on "Let Me In," a mix between a love song and a lament. Over a Dilla-indebted hip-hop soul track, the Detroit jazz vocalist Sky Covington refers to Moodymann as her "urban fairytale" only for her prince charming to say that she's "never been a good soul to no one... especially me." Dixon Jr. is a staple in the Detroit community, hosting BBQs and Soul Skate, but sometimes even he gets tired. On "I'm Already Hi," he impersonates two gold bricking callers offering various favors (some weed, the company of a young woman, the payback of a long-overdue loan) in an attempt to secure his crib as a venue for an afterparty. Over a campy bossa nova arrangement a heavy-lidded Dixon Jr. demurs, saying "I'm already high."
What about the ecstatic bangers Dixon Jr.'s built his reputation on, from "Shades Of Jae" to "No?" Jamie Principle turns in a dramatic vocal for the album's "Dem Young Sconies"-esque closer "I Need Another ______." The previous cut, "Let Me Show You Love," is a wistful boogie-house number with a bassline worthy of West Coast funk institution Dâm-Funk. But there has always been a duality to Moodymann. For every "Black Mahogany" there is an "Amerika." With Dixon Jr. and friends frequently on the mic, this bittersweet balance snaps into focus.
On the otherwise party-ready title track an uncredited female vocalist sings, "Lord if you take him away, I don't wanna live." The drums and bassline drop out, replaced by minor-key strings and police sirens. The video of Dixon Jr. being harassed by police on his own property inevitably springs to mind. On "Just Stay A While," featuring Detroit-born legend and Soul Skate alumnus Chico DeBarge, we hear these highs and lows reflected in the music. On the multi-generational team-up, Dixon Jr. cuts up the vocal from DeBarge, who alternately has his "back against the wall" and beckons the listener to "stay a while." In the world described on Taken Away, every blossoming romance can lead to heartache, every party can lead to getting pulled over on the way home and no favor goes unpunished.
But for Dixon Jr., music, skating and fellowship remain an escape from problems large and small. "Slow Down," a sexy soul track playing on a lurid theme touched on by everyone from Prince to Hubert Eaves' Esoteric Funk, sounds like a party. As DeBarge and Diviniti trade lines, we hear a siren go by in the background. This time, it passes without event, simply part of the landscape. A possibly inebriated DeBarge ad libs an outro, "skoller ratin' shit (sic)... roller skatin'." It reminded me of Dixon Jr. describing roller skaters lost in the music, temporarily without a care in the world. "You got some bad motherfuckers out there that don't do nothing but float. They do nothing but float."
01. Do Wrong
02. Taken Away
03. Let Me In
04. Goodbye Everybody
05. Slow Down
06. I'm Already Hi
07. Just Stay A While
08. Let Me Show You Love
09. I Need Another ____
10. Do Wrong (Skate Edit)