D'Angelo's Black Messiah  Took Fifteen Years To Produce

Squishy, sticky, elastic beats, some so slow and off-kilter that they threaten to fall apart, ghostly falsetto harmonies, cavernous empty spaces between the rhythmic wah-wah pulses and a distant, almost other-worldly sonic perspective announce D’Angelo’s singular sinewy yet gentle vision.

More R&B and guitar driven rock than Hip-Hop, D’Angelo’s melodic vision is almost a throwback to a Prince-ly era, though his delivery is far cooler and consistently laid back—to the point where it’s often difficult to understand the lyrics. There’s a lot of bedroom talk but also a subtle infusion of progressive politics.

The first play should have you smiling both because of the slinky inventiveness of it all and because the all-analog sound is also a warm throwback to another era. This is a record that invites you in with good natured musical humor even before you get to the lyrics.

With its stepping stone rhythmic pulse and horn accents (arranged by Roy Hargove) “Sugah Daddy” will most remind you of classic Prince. “1000 Deaths”, with it’s string popping bass line and A.M. radio preacher exhortations sounds like something off of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. When you get to the breezy, tuneful, finger-snapping “Really Love”, driven by nylon classical guitar you’ll get the artist’s full vision if you hadn’t arrived there earlier. “Prayer” demonstrates the difference between being influenced by and lifting from Marvin Gaye.

Much of the drumming and drum programming was by The Roots’ Amir-Khalib “Questlove” Thompson—who is a major record collector. Pino Palladino plays bass. So what’s this about being all-analog? According to the liner notes: “No digital ‘plug-ins’ of ay kind were used in this recording. All of the recording, processing, effects and mixing was done in the analog domain using tape and mostly vintage equipment. For best results listen at maximum volume.”

Recording was done at premier studios including in NYC at M.S.R.,Sear Sound, Avatar and Quad. These guys spent the money and put in the time to produce a great sounding record! For some reason side 4 sounds the best (the most 3 dimensional) but all four sides of the standard weight, well pressed double LP sound warm and inviting. The gatefold packaging includes a full sized booklet and digital download key.

The credits indicate mastering by Dave Collins and lacquer cuts by Alex DeTurk at Masterdisk, so I’m betting it was cut from high resolution digital files but given the source, it would take a great deal more than a 96/24 conversion to remove the embedded warm and rich “analog-iness” from the final sound.

It took D’Angelo (who is not claiming to be the “Black Messiah”) fifteen years to make this record. It was worth the wait. It took months after the CD release for the vinyl version. It too was worth the wait!

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saxman73's picture

This is new vinyl done right in the non-audiophile world and I find that very encouraging. The music is great and the sound too. The vinyl sounds big, warm and pretty dynamic and my copy is well pressed. And it's not expensive! Well done. I am glad I waited to get this record on vinyl. I am hoping more big acts will follow suit.

Jerome Sabbagh

akovo's picture

D'Angelo's previous album, "Voodoo," is also rich in analog goodness. Fans of "Black Messiah" should definitely check that one out too.

firedog55's picture

quote from Twitter:

Russell Elevado ‏@RussElevado
@dagroovologist we cut laquers with the 96k digital album master. We had to slightly adjust the EQ for the vinyl.

Interestingly, the 24/96 download is pretty strongly volume compressed, but the LP seems not to be. That's a shame. I wish they would leave "audiophile" downloads without the added volume compression.

Daniel Emerson's picture

When I first heard D'Angelo (back in the Nineties), I wasn't a fan. I thought he was a bit lightweight and his style wasn't for me.

But this album got recommended by so many people (fans and journalists), so I looked it up on Spotify and decided to give it a chance. I'm very glad I did, as it is a revelation. I was online and purchasing by track three!

I have to admit that I bought the CD, not the vinyl, but it is a remarkable piece of work and he has gone up massively in my estimation. A really intriguing album.

kozy814's picture

Thae tracks I played on-line are a tad heavy on the bass freqs. Is the vinyl similar or maybe a bit more balanced? The music is layered and groovy. Thinking of buying the LP...

Phil D's picture

Having both these is interesting. The CD came first and: 1. This is incredible! Immediately drew me in and blew me away in way that not a lot music does. 2. I noticed the bass even at fairly low levels literally shook the windows. This is not necessarily a knock.
I have to say though, the vinyl is way more nuanced to these ears the multiple layers of sound feather together in a way that i believe is more representational of the intent.