Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
And the world keeps turning for one Jay Berry. Building on the success of his two solo joints, “Ear For Music” and “Mama’s Only Son”, his leadership on the Good Company project, and his production work for his own labelmates on Beezee70, the man more commonly known as Jahah, now shifts his attention to another project.
Its hard not to assume that after all the ‘Good Company sound kinda like The Roots’ comparisons, that AFAR is Jahah’s quiet way of saying to the media, “Actually, THIS is what a Jahah band that sounds like The Roots sounds like”, but its much much more than that. Yes of course its a live band with an emcee in the front, and of course people will throw that damned ‘neo-soul’ tag around them hoping for it to stick, but to speak of AFAR only in these terms is doing a massive disservice to all the band members. Y’see, these five guys are all talented musicians whose hard work has not only resulted in this album, but also seen AFAR nail down a place in the ATL, keeping the stadium crowd hype before, during and after Atlanta Hawks games, and seen Jahah and co pick up a fat contract with Fox to produce the background music for upcoming NFL coverage on the channel. (Beezee loves this game!)
The album showcases the talents of Jahah as the emcee/lead singer, Doron on keys, Marc B on guitar, Che on drums, and DeMuze on bass as they take the listener through a range of different flavors, from straight up Hiphop, to funk, to crunk, to soul and R’n’B, and kicks off with ‘No Time To Front’, where listeners familiar with Jahah’s style will instantly appreciate what’s going on here. Propped up by snippets of Zapp, clanking cowbells, and bright flute samples, Jahah drops verses which are divided by fairly standard ‘get your ass up and dance’ hooks. Its a nice opener, but perhaps for seasoned listeners a tad predictable.
‘Movin’ On’ however is easily one of the most memorable songs of the past year… why? Not only is the song itself a pretty inspiring piece – itself a feat in these days of guns and bitches ruling rap, but the hook on this track is pure gold – I have no idea who the hell this CC chick is, but Jahah needs to get her ass in the studio more often. She sounds like a cross between Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, and her vocals dominate the track and leave a definite lasting impression.
‘Mic Check’ moves away from the soul of the previous track, and brings things back into a rawer Hiphop mode, with scratches from DJ Rasta Root, and offkey piano stabs forming the base of the track as Jahah lays down the verbs, before giving way to a jazz-influenced Playhowyalike piano and scratch duel between Doron and Rasta Root.
The remix of ‘Oohh’ appears on “Mama’s Only Son” and also here as a bonus track and is built around an old soul sample that I can never remember the name of. The original mix of this track is a different beat altogether – with a faster tempo, its the first track on the album to really display the trappings of ‘live band-ness’ and impresses with its soulful vibe and gentle guitar licks.
The intro to the title track instantly draw comparisons with Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’, before transforming into a rowdy heavy funk anthem of sorts. Somehow though, the pieces never quite fit properly, and the chanted chorus sits at odds, and the ‘jam session’ portion near the end sound kind of forced. Its a minor hiccup though, and one quickly recovered from, as my man Mr Moody rips the doors of the studio off and abruptly tells you to ‘Watch Out’. This is a much harder track, with a tough set of horns and a tougher trio of verses from Moody, Jahah, and The Black Superhero bringing a definite Hiphop flavor back into the mix.
The instrumental track ‘Dream On’ and the breathy ‘Reality’ do their best to inject some soul into proceedings, but the Hiphop can’t be denied, and after another minor hiccup (‘Still Standing’), the world’s first live-band-playing-crunk-music exhibition is open for business over at the AFAR stand. ‘ATL Anthem’ is of course a way of paying homage to the place where they dwell, and its only natural for them to carry out this task using the music that the ATL has become famous for. Attempting it with a live band though is definitely a risky move though, and I was interested to see if they could pull it off. And… they DO… managing to come across as a Lil Jon / Busta Rhymes / Public Enemy-live-show hybrid with chunky synths, quickfire rhymes, and rumbling rock guitars, ‘ATL Anthem’ is definitely a headnodder. (Although performed live it’s even more frenetic!)
Thoughtfully-provided clean versions of all the tracks aside, ‘ATL Anthem’ brings the album to a close, and leaves the listener wanting more – I guess that’s the trick of producing a successful album. This is not the type of album that will have instant appeal to everyone – despite its quality, there are many who will find this as more of a grower, than a quick audio snack, and sadly others who don’t have the attention span to give this the time it deserves. For the normal people amongst us though, ‘Movin’ On’ alone makes this worth picking up, and the hard work by the quintet on making sure the rest of the album was solid makes this worthy of further investigation.