Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

The Foreign Exchange

— Leave It All Behind It’s been four years since the duo of Durham rapper and one-half of Little Brother Phonte Coleman released his first collaboration with Dutch producer Nicolay (www. entitled Connected, and since that time there’s been an apparent metamorphosis in the duo’s dynamic. Whereas Connected was dominated by Phonte’s biting rhyming style, their latest release, Leave It All Behind, is a heartfelt collection of soulful croonings that certainly shows an airy and emotional side of the often edgy rapper. Phonte’s vocals are sparse and genuine, telling tales of real human experience and the emotional aftermath of such. Numerous guest vocalists offer just the right complement and harmony from track to track. Yahzarah does so in particular on “If She Breaks Your Heart” and “If This Is Love,” sounding sweetly sentimental yet seductive at the same time. The best part of it all? There’s not a single vocoder or Auto-Tune effect to be found. Just natural vocal talent as God intended. Nicolay’s beats run the gamut of ambient, new wave and classic hip hop and never once try to steal the spotlight from the album’s vocals. They might occasionally sound a bit dated, especially near the end of “Take Off the Blues,” but even then Nicolay manages to make them bright and hip. The second disc of instrumentals is a nice touch, however, as they make for perfect mood grooves. The album as a whole is the perfect foil to the overproduction that has begun to plague Hip Hop music as a whole (are you listening T-Pain?).

Cat Power

— Dark End of the Street The latest offering from Greensboro’s emotionally volatile (though in her defense, she’s doing better) singer/songwriter Chan Marshall, otherwise known as Cat Power (www., comes on the heels of her full-length album of cover tunes Jukebox and is, oddly enough, and EP of more cover tunage. Whether they just weren’t good enough to make the album initially or there wasn’t enough material for a double album is up for debate, however. Dark End of the Street casts six more classics in Marshall’s own mold of sleepy, hazy vocals and soulful jazz and blues arrangements, with varying degrees of success. The album opens with her rendition of James Carr’s track that also lends itself to the album’s title and while it sounds nice, it hangs a little too heavily on the smoky blues riffs to seem worthwhile. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” in taken down a notch or two in tempo with a droning cadence that doesn’t do the political urgency of the original the proper justice. Undoubtedly, the album’s high-water mark comes on her cover of the Otis Redding Classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now).” It’s a piece that still manages to evoke goosebumps of the original, despite the replacement of Redding’s powerful voice with Marshall’s sultry, yet earnest whispers. She deserves some commendation for taking on such difficult material to ever come on par with, let alone surpass, but she should have known what she was getting into in that same regard.

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