Tuesday, June 22, 2010

REVIEW: On New Release, The Roots Prove a Day Job Won't Stop Them From 'Getting Over'

Album: How I Got Over
Artist: The Roots
Release Date: 6/22
Stream How I Got Over at MySpace

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the implosion of NBC's late-night lineup this past spring had less to do with who would be behind the desks and more with the fact that, in Conan's departure and Leno's return to The Tonight Show, the current Jimmy Fallon-led Late Night would remain at its "still night, not morning" position.

Translation: more exposure for the greatest band in hip hop history.

The Roots have been at the center of an alternate universe for well over a decade now, ruling over a world in which their strength as a live unit has buttressed any number of talents into successes of their own; performing with "The Legendary Roots Crew" could bolster an otherwise unimpressive artist into something worth your attention, while sets with equally strong acts became the stuff of, well, legend. It's not by accident that, in backing Jay-Z during his Unplugged 2.0 set for MTV, The Roots propelled Hova to his most playful, powerful set prior to his "retirement" (and possibly ever.)

With their nightly gig on Fallon's program, The Roots have been able to establish their eclectic, elastic strengths for an increasingly broad audience, the whole while forging a new facet to their identity: best live band on television today. While Leno's band recedes further into banality by adding the musical director from American Idol and Letterman's CBS Orchestra stays firmly rooted in the sort of classic rock songbook that has been their meat-and-potatoes, The Roots effortlessly cover the bases in virtually any genre required of them.

More after the jump, including a collaboration with a pair of Yacht Rock legends.

The question then became one of The Roots' ability to make records that lived up to their reputation for creativity within a medium frequently criticized for its narrow sonic scope. If the jones to create something unexpected and inventive for an audience was being met on a nightly basis, would their next release suffer? Some concern began to arise when the band's latest, How I Got Over,  was delayed from its original release date last fall. Questlove, the band's drummer and co-founder, stated that the delay was due to a desire to create an album that was, in his words, "perfecto." Did the Legendary Roots Crew rise to the occasion?


The Roots "How I Got Over" from Okayplayer on Vimeo.

Much will be made of the album's eclectic guest stars- Jim James of My Morning Jacket, John Legend, and Joanna Newsom are among those stopping by- but their talents are wisely used in creating the mood and texture of the record, rather than as some kind of attention-getting depth charge. 

Though the delay has resulted in what one assumes is a superior product, How I Got Over has a very "fall feel" to it, rather than that of a "summer record." The sound is steeped in the sort of widescreen soul found in the best of Curtis Mayfield or Bobby Womack in the mid '70s. Everything feels alive and vibrant, but it's more leather jackets than Hawaiian shirts. The instrumentation throughout the record makes the final product feel very organic, with an overall production that benefits from the decision to move from ProTools to a live mixing board (did Questlove get this on a Neve?)- How I Got Over has the sound and feel of a classic soul album. 

Black Thought, The Roots' MC, told XXL that this was a more "celebratory" record than the previous efforts and, while that may be true overall, the celebration sounds hard-won. This is a mature hip hop album about perseverance  in the face of adversity, plain and simple. How I Got Over isn't a party album- it's a set of songs for courage and confidence, and, by the time the title track comes around, one can hear the spirit of Curtis Mayfield in the room.

How I Got Over is a record that benefits from repeated listenings, revealing more about itself with each spin. It's a "required replay" record, and each spin yields more surprises, which really isn't a surprise from this eclectic, adventurous crew. Give it some time to reveal itself and let it help you get over any preconceptions of what a hip hop album- or any album- should sound like in 2010- this is the sound of a group that is less concerned with sounding contemporary and more about creating something timeless, and it largely succeeds.

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