MIKE BURTON — Say What? (review)

MIKE BURTON — Say What? album cover Album · 2017 · Jazz Related RnB Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
I am sure there are plenty of RnB fans who miss the golden age of the late 60s to mid 70s when artists like Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield wrote artistic music with deep challenging lyrics that tackled the issues of the day. There has been new hope recently as musicians such as Esperanza Spaulding, Robert Glasper and Thundercat have been bringing a much needed creativity and social consciousness to the world of RnB. Much of this new music comes from the LA scene, far from RnB’s roots in the deep south, but a new voice, Mike Burton, has come up from Jackson Mississiippi bringing that deep southern soul mixed with modern cosmopolitan elements and featuring profound and spiritual lyrics that take on many troubling issues. Mike is mostly known as a saxophonist who has worked with Jill Scott and others, but on this new album, “Say What”, he also takes control of the vocal mic so that he can bring his thoughtful lyrics to the table. The end result is one of the best RnB albums of recent times, as it features earthy tones from the past mixed with a modern sheen from the present amongst a spiritual background in southern gospel music.

That mix of hip-hop modern and funky traditional is a big part of the appeal on“Say What”. The vocoder enhanced vocals, and stuttering broken hip-hop beats carry the sound of today, while the gritty rhythm guitar and the New Orleans influence of the accompanying Good Times Brass Band are all very familiar to fans of the classic southern Staxx label sound. Jackson is just a short hop down the Mississippi River from Memphis, and this album is drenched in that Memphis/Mississippii Delta vibe.

Mike’s writing style is unique and often avoids cliché chord sequences. On tracks like ‘Pray” and “Walk”, modern harmonic progressions seem to spiral endlessly upwards reflecting the spiritual nature of the lyrics. On “Messin it Up” and “Sick and Tired” Burton presents hard funk rhythms powered with big brassy horn refrains. Songs such as “Come Back" and “Daddy’s Little Girl” deal with being a father, his lyrics are truly touching, but never cloy or overly sentimental. Mike does not shy away from the difficulties of being an African-American, but he does so in a way that should make any person feel included in his concerns. Do you miss that golden age of meaningful and artistic RnB, pick up “Say What” and you won’t have to anymore.
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