R&B and soul traditionally have been among the most tradition-bound genres. Fans generally feel uncomfortable with R&B/soul artists who deviate substantially from the templates established in the '50s and '60s—and the artists themselves usually aren't that keen on tampering with what has been a successful formula. While the stylistic traits generated by Louis Jordan, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye et al. have led to some of history's most exciting songs, they do show signs of decrepitude.
Which is why the recent spate of neo-soul new jacks is promising. Teaching this old dog new tricks ain't easy, so respect is due to the likes of SA-RA Creative Partners, Platinum Pied Pipers, Jamie Lidell, and, last but not least, Steve Spacek. Injecting streamlined energy, edgy textures, and fractured rhythms into soul's aging sensorium, these players revitalize creaky mannerisms, building on the advances made by avant-garde '90s soul men like D'Angelo, R. Kelly, and their ilk.
Emerging from his namesake South London group Spacek, who released the acclaimed albums Curvatia and Vintage Hi-Tech, Steve Spacek boasts the silky, seductive pipes of Gaye and Al Green. Those dulcet tones will be enough of a selling point for some listeners (primarily those possessing G-spots, if I may make a bold prognostication). But beyond Spacek's substantial vocal pleasures on his solo debut, Space Shift (Sound in Color), there lies his earnest lover man's pledges to treat you—yes, you, young lady—like royalty between the sheets. And, for the fellas and production geeks of all genders, Spacek (with help from J Dilla, GB, and D Bridge) sprinkles 21st-century space dust on the stripped-down, stealthy funk that animates D'Angelo's 2000 classic, Voodoo. Yes, we're talking about the understatedly libidinous sound and honey-glazed melodies that've opened countless chakras and legs worldwide. Upgrades on this steez are always welcome, as condom manufacturers everywhere agree.
Unlike Lidell, who explodes soul vocalese into an outrageous cybernetic future, Spacek is more subdued and subliminal. Where Lidell snarls, growls, and grunts, Spacek murmurs, moans, and croons. Both schemes have their places: Lidell's style is like an alpha-male mating call whereas Spacek's is more suited for that time when lovers finally get it together in the boudoir. One leads a diminished existence without either approach. Spacek's strategy comes to a head on "Smoke," a collaboration between him and renowned Motown composer Leon Ware. The song lovingly embodies the heavy-lidded, slow-grinding soul bliss of Gaye's "I Want You." The rest of the disc (produced in L.A., and sounding appropriately carefree and effervescent) drops PhD-level carnal knowledge with gentle insistence. A copy of Space Shift should be kept on every bedside table—right next to the Trojans. DAVE SEGAL
Steve Spacek plays with SunTzu Sound and Fourthcity DJs Thurs Feb 2 at Baltic Room, 1207 E Pine St, 625-4444, 9 pm–2 am, $7, 21+.