In 2012, R&B/soul changed in a big way. The genre itself is constantly evolving, as what was considered R&B in the '60s is drastically different than the R&B of present day. Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder shifted to Mary J. Blige and R. Kelly, and the transition continues with Miguel, Frank Ocean and the Weeknd picking up the mics, creating a holy trinity of new R&B stars.
While I love this moody, sexy, atmospheric and introspective R&B, I'm still an old school girl at heart. Give me a horn section, a sweaty soul singer and a bunch of guys wearing suits and I'm in heaven.
Deciding between the two styles of R&B/soul is really an eternal struggle. My music nerd self wants to elevate Miguel to the top of the list, but my heart (and my hips) want to go with the throwback soul of Lee Fields and the Expressions. If I wasn't wearing a vintage dress today, Miguel could have taken it all.
Here are my top five, with some bonus material at the end.
1. Lee Fields, Faithful Man
Lee Fields has been singing soul music for more than 40 years. He's got the swagger, the look, the attitude and the band. With tight arrangements, cool grooves and a smoking soul voice, how can you not love this record? With some music, you have to be in the right head space to listen to it, but with Fields, your attitude will change the second you put the needle on the record, or press play. Come on, I dare you.
Listen Lee Fields and the Expressions, Faithful Man
Full album stream until Dec. 23
2. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
Can I have two top spots, because Miguel is my other R&B obsession. I can't tell you how many times a jam from Kaleidoscope Dream would pop into my head, making me feel instantly cooler. The best was when I would start singing "Gravity" while riding my bike, the escalating intensity of the song helping me up particularly steep hills. The breakout single, "Adorn," has been at the top of the charts for months, and has been nominated for the song of the year Grammy, a notable nod to this new R&B sound.
3. The Slakadeliqs, The Other Side of Tomorrow
Toronto producer Slakah the Beatchild recorded under the name the Slakadeliqs for this project, which landed on the Polaris long list. He describes the record as "not even a soul/R&B record. It’s more like an alternative pop record — there’s Americana, folk, Caribbean music. When I think of those genres, I’m thinking of countrysides, blue skies and beaches." So this may seem like a strange choice for an R&B/soul list, but choosing this sunny, bright pop album is just so 2012 of me to do.
4. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Its a little daunting to write about an aritst whose every move musically and personally have been documented and analyzed. Frank Ocean, like Miguel, has crossed over into mainstream success. For me, I have to include this album based on the number of spins it has had in my brain. I would conservatively estimate that the song "Lost" was listened to about 5,000 times. Next time you are in an airport, think of this hypnotic beat.
5. Zaki Ibrahim, Every Opposite
Zaki Ibrahim's official full-length debut is the second album that is not straight-up R&B, and coincidentally, it is also another Canadian pick. We just don't like genre boxes. This was a favourite during the summertime. The electronic pulsing, soulful voice and R&B beats make this an exciting, haunting and epic album that is best listened to loud and on repeat.
There were many other notable R&B/soul releases this year, and for the aspiring fan, here's a bonus list to add to your year-end collection.
Melanie Fiona, The MF Life
The Weeknd, Trilogy
Estelle, All of Me
Elle Varner, Perfectly Imperfect
Jessie Ware, Devotion
Q&A: Lee Fields talks James Brown, ladies, the essence of soul
Miguel takes on R&B with Kaleidoscope Dream
Q&A: Slakah the Beatchild is feeling good
Frank Ocean, Miguel, R&B stars rule Grammy nominations
Zaki Ibrahim: No borders
5 reasons to love Elle Varner
Grammy winner Melanie Fiona drops new album
on Dec 16, 2012