Soul

Caution (CD)

Pop divas don’t get much larger-than-life than Mariah Carey. That’s a rarified stratum in pop culture that is accessed only through a combination of world class talent, coupled with peak MTV-era overexposure (as well as the resulting hangover), and having your very own immortal Christmas standard to boot. Caution is her fifteenth album overall, which is certainly indicative of a workaholic career, yet more importantly it’s only her second collection of all original material released this decade. No longer beholden to the insatiable pace of a meat grinder industry, Mariah Carey has time to create and release the albums she wants to make. As a result, there is an unmistakable quality to her recent works that had been missing in her mid-to-late '00s marathon. Caution is no different, however, unlike the statement-making length of The Elusive Chanteuse, it runs a brisk 38 minutes and is largely composed of Mariah embracing her role as the R&B slow jam queen. Songs such as “GTFO” and “With You” sound like a sultry, smoky update on her many '90s ballads, with only the production hinting that it's 2018. But when she does liven up the pace it just goes to show the depths of her pop acumen: Mariah can still crank out bangers with the best of ‘em. On what is undoubtedly the album’s highlight, “The Distance” manages to deftly combine a deep, deep groove with diva-sized vocal acrobatics. Skrillex, who produced the track, does his best impression of retro-futurist funk lords Benedek, Sasac, and Dam Funk, mixing '90s R&B synth flourishes with a comically fat bassline. It’s as groovy a production as you’ll hear all year, hell; it would even sound great as an instrumental. Add Mariah Carey (along with a well-timed Ty Dolla $ign verse) to the mix? You’re gonna need to cool off after this one.

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Soul Side Of Town (CD)

Perennial Oakland horn section/funk collective Tower of Power celebrates their 50th anniversary the only way they know how: with an epic, all night long rhythm & soul blowout. In production since 2012, the songs that comprise Soul Side of Town were pulled from four separate sessions in order to “make the best record of (their) career.” Whether or not it hits that lofty goal is up for debate, but rest assured that Soul Side is a worthy entry in ToP’s storied career and epitomizes the energetic, upbeat funk that they do best.

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Ruby (CD)

Nobody makes music quite like Macy Gray. Ruby is the raspy-voiced singer’s tenth album and it’s packed with her signature smart, vivacious brand of retro-tinged R&B/soul. Lead single “Sugar Daddy” is a fittingly sweet and seductive walk through the candy shop — it’s a sophisticated, innuendo-laced late night jam. Also of note is guitarist Gary Clark Jr.’s appearance on the excellent “Buddha.” There’s something for everyone here, from uplifting, feel good strummers to lush throwback soul and jazz to outspoken, politically topical ballads.

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TLC (CD)

The ‘90s might not seem so far away, but the ladies of TLC are definitely R&B icons in their own right. That’s why the tracks on their latest LP are so interesting; with only one guest appearance (from the mighty Snoop) and melodies that draw heavily from classic funk and soul, the focus here is squarely on the women, their legacy, and how they defined R&B. (There’s even a well-placed Earth, Wind & Fire sample on standout track “It’s Sunny,” just in case you need a reminder of how their work fits in with some of the biggest names in urban music.) Other memorable tracks include “Way Back;” nostalgic, infectious, and just straight up fun, it’s the perfect summer song while “Haters” is cool, confident, and laidback. Their new album is T-Boz and Chilli’s final release as a group, but TLC will leave you wanting more.

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