Seattle's Maktub has been around for a good thirteen years. While they've used that time to gain sophistication and extend their chops, they're still true to their roots as an R&B/soul band with a taste for funk. Five is their fifth album, available for a "pay what you think it's worth" price from their website. It's interesting to compare it with their first album, Subtle Ways (1999). One of the biggest areas of improvement is around their vocal arrangements. Subtle Ways was a good album, but it begged for backing vocals. Five adds a taste (there's still some more room) and also does some nice vocal sampling to bring out a more modern pop sensibility. The newer album also does a lot more with multi-tracking, which creates a richer listening experience.
Five spends most of its time in the pop/R&B/soul zone, with several songs that evoke Simply Red. Slippin' Away sounds a lot like Holding Back the Years, anchored with a smooth bass line and filled with keyboard parts. The distorted guitar lead adds an edgy rock vibe.
The stand out songs break this pattern, though. Strange World channels Prince's Sign O' The Times, withe a cool retro detuned guitar sound and tremolo. The groove is tight, with a touch of Jimi in the background fills. The utopian lyrics are full of nice imagery.
Seems Like Only Yesterday is the official guitar track of the album, with a talk box/AutoTune groove laying down the funk. It's too short, though, as the wailing guitar lead takes it out.
Finally, The Alchemist is a driving instrumental song that flirts with prog rock. The beat and the bass are up front, but there are layers of subtle details in the background that build the structure of the song. This is another one that would be better if they stretched out a little longer. The title is probably a reference to Paulo Coelho's novel, where they got their band name from.
All in all, a satisfying buffet of songs. Maybe it's the soul, but I'm thinking Brandy Alexanders are on the menu for this one.