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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Top 10 soul albums of 2011

This year turned out to be a good one for soul music. We saw an ass-load of new releases from familiar faces, brand-new folks and artists we haven't seen in a hot minute. But, for me, 10 albums stood out as the cream of the crop in 2011.

Signs of Life, Dionne Farris: You never know how much you a miss an artist until that artist drops off the map. That’s how I felt listening to Dionne Farris’ latest project — which is arguably the best CD of her career. Though she’s been, for all intents and purposes, off the scene for years, on Signs of Life Farris doesn’t skip a beat in her quest to evade being pigeonholed — and to push the envelope on what can be done with soul (or pop or whatever) music. Plus, these are just some pretty-ass songs.

The Love Album, Kim Burrell: Kim Burrell is known in church circles as a straight-up gospel music singer. But for The Love Album, she dips her toes deeper in the secular music market … and in the process creates a collection of songs that combine tales of romantic love with spirituality. Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “this ain’t my thing,” be warned that The Love Album is filled with such beautifully melodic tunes — songs driven by Burrell’s effortlessly acrobatic vocals — even Satanists would dig it.

The Story, King: The all-female trio King came out of nowhere with this three-song EP, but they brought a breath of fresh air in tow. The Story is built on the foundation of complex harmonies and subtle lyrics — instead of a bombastic soul music cartoon.

As Above, So Below, Anthony David: Anthony David is one of Atlanta’s most prolific artists — and that prolific nature has served him well. Album after album, you can hear David’s singing and songwriting skills get tighter. As Above, So Below presents us with an artist who knows himself well enough to evolve his sound (see tracks like “Body Language” and “Get Around”) without compromising his identity.

Mr. Nice Guy, Eric Roberson: Here we go with another ultra-prolific cat. This time around, however, Eric Roberson has added a ton of new layers to his repertoire by teaming up with folks Chubb Rock, Phonte, Jean Baylor and more. The end result is a fun album that makes you see Roberson in a brand-new light.

Ritual Union, Little Dragon

Betty Wright: The Movie, Betty Wright

The Bitter Suite, Carmen Rodgers

Where It All Begins, Lalah Hathaway

Dear Friends: An Evening With The Foreign Exchange, The Foreign Exchange

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