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Sound Off – 4hero: Play With the Changes

Posted by ThatsMyJamRadio on June 1, 2007

The latest albums making noise

4hero’s latest album, Play With the Changes, presents an interesting dilemma … iTunes classifies the CD’s genre as “unclassifiable.” Perhaps that’s because this foursome-turned-duo has explored the musical spectrum, with individual and group projects that have innovated drum ‘n’ bass and paid homage to hip-hop, house, soul, break beats and jazz. The group has additionally created music where all these and more were fused together. Clearly they’re unwilling to have their palates bored with the formulaic “same ol’, same ol’.”

Lucky for listeners, Play With the Changes is anything but bland. Though consistently mellow, the instrumentation and airy, atmospheric acoustics maintain engaging jazz, chill and electronic melodies for the slew of relatively unfamiliar collaborating vocalists. The most notable among the guest stars is Jody Watley. (There’s more than enough talent from the beat makers to offset the missing who’s who of mainstream “talent” ― those making appearances here are added bonuses to 4hero’s tunes.) The Grammy Award-winning songstress co-wrote the soulful “Bed of Roses,” a slap-in-the-face reminder that life ain’t a cakewalk, but it’s somehow easier to swallow when Watley reaches into her lower ranges and caresses the uptempo, drum-driven beat.

Carina Andersson graces the set opener, “Morning Child,” a stringier, more over-the-top and speedier cousin to British trio Morcheeba’s “Blindfold,” but this ode to motherhood is easily the most orchestral and horn-filled track on the disc. Darien Brockington and Little Brother’s Phonte could mistakenly be confused for John Legend and Common, respectively, on “Give In,” a song as supportive as it is an admittance of weakness (“I know there’ll be times of rain/Those are the days that I want to give in/I’ll be your friend through the cloudy days/Don’t be ashamed, I won’t let you give in”).

4hero further diversifies its set with Philadelphia poetess Ursula Rucker, whose foray into spoken word on “The Awakening” instantly punctuates and gives credit to the socially conscious deep thoughts presented in her verses. The art form is not as commercially popular as in the recent past, but still prevalent in works by neo-soul, underground and “alternative” acts such as Rucker’s fellow Philadelphians, The Roots. Here inside this song, Rucker uses it to challenge listeners to continue pursuing a never-ending revolution that’s equally vulnerable and questioning of her place in it. “Sophia,” one of the album’s three instrumental tracks, is busy and full of happy piano, moody strings and fast-paced drumming that evokes images of the hustle and bustle and colliding emotions on a busy city street.

4hero’s efforts on this collection are a welcome treat in the somewhat stale state of current chill and downtempo grooves, typically made by forgettable artists that somehow garner heavy rotation in trendy coffee shops and clothing boutiques. Arguments could easily be made that the music heard on this album should be boxed into jazz, soul or electronica, but part of the appeal is how much it embraces ambiguity between the three. Casual music fans might not appreciate Play With the Changes, but folks bored with what passes as the norm in pop music will be pleasantly surprised with this compilation of songs that sounds familiar, yet refreshingly new.

Track List:
1. “Morning Child” with Carina Andersson

2. “Take My Time” with Jack Davey
3. “Look Inside” with FACE
4. “Sink or Swim (No Choice for Me)” with Lady Alma
5. “Give In” with Darien Brockington and Phonte
6. “Play With the Changes” with Talita Long and Larry Mizell
7. “Something In the Way” with Bembe Segue and Kaidi Taitham
8. “Stoke Up the Fire” with FACE
9. “The Awakening” with Ursula Rucker
10. “Sophia”
11. “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” with Terry Devos
12. “Why Don’t You Talk?”
13. “Bed of Roses” with Jody Watley

14. “Gonna Give It Up (Wanna Quit)” with Lady Alma
15. “Dedication to the Horse”

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