Monday, May 3, 2010

CD review - Rene Lopez, People Are Just People (2010)

The modern take on pop R&B is often calculated, cynical, and ultimately bland. So, it's refreshing to hear Rene Lopez reach back and channel the joy that used to infuse this music. People Are Just People is a love letter to the golden age of classic R&B, soul, and funk.

In interviews, Lopez has talked about getting hooked on Prince, then tracking back to earlier influences. You can hear Prince in his occasional falsetto (listen to the title track) and also in his approach on this record. He plays most of the instruments on these tracks, usually bringing in help for bass, some keys, and backing vocals. Some artists can't pull this off because they lose the interplay and spark of the song, but Lopez keeps the vibe loose. It sounds like a regular band recording the tracks.

The two best songs have opposite perspectives on relationships. Pretty Much Happy is a catchy pop song, infused with joyful love:
Baby don't you know, you're the only one
That makes me pretty much happy
I took the medication
All sorts of meditation
I dipped into religion, but I couldn't be forgiven
But when I found you near me
I start to see things clearly
So can you help me out and stick around
The soulful pop has some gospel undertones. I smile just remembering it.

On the other side, Especially You is a little more complex. Lyrically, it's bitter and resigned, dealing with betrayal and the need to move on:
I don't need your love to tell me I'm a man
I cannot be saved by Jesus or a woman
All I need is time, away from all the madness
That happens in my mind
Along with my bad habits
I don't need nothin' more from anyone
Especially you
The music puts doubt to the words, with a laid back soul vibe that feels more in love than it should. It's just as catchy a tune, though.

Other songs stand up well, from the simple ballad, Can You Relate, to the upbeat pop blues of Wednesday. Change has that Sly Stone funk feel, with a complex layered groove and sweet guitars.

People Are Just People has an instant classic sound, so let's pair it with a good retro cocktail, like a Harvey Wallbanger.

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