Album Watch: Andy Allo Is A 'Superconductor'

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It is impossible to discuss Andy Allo without mentioning Prince somewhere in the repartee. Try as might, determined to avoid it, I fail as there is no getting around discussing it as his Purple Majesty plays an intricate part of the rediscovering and evolution of Ms. Allo by way of her second round, Superconductor.

Achieving a dream that only few can imagine (and be insanely jealous over), the Cameroonian singer-songwriter was introduced to her idol in 2011 and a unique kinship formed, leading Allo to transform from an undiscovered coffee house indie-soul pixie to a foot-stompin' chanteuse doing the hippie shake right there next to his Royal Badness. The transformation was a stark albeit interesting fit from the start, and the play-out of that has been one of the most anticipatory accounts of this year.

Always a champion of the protégé, Prince has pretty much formed a genre of its own make with the various acts that have either been nurtured or taken under his wing over the last three decades. Some of the names are familiar mainstays (Sheila E., Wendy & Lisa, Morris Day & The Time), other names you need to take some ginkgo to enhance that dusty memory to recall (Ta Mara & The Seen, Madhouse, Ingrid Chavez), and others you relish in forgetting (Carmen Electra anyone...?). Then there is another sub-genre of Prince protégés, the grouping that occupies established artists who just took a little Purple Trip now and then and whose names cross many a genre (Chaka Khan, Sheena Easton, Stevie Nicks, Martika).

Allo is a different type of protégé as she falls somewhere in the middle of these tiers. Established she sort of is, as 2009 introduced us indie-music loving souls to her with her quaint debut, UnFresh. Still a big name Allo isn't, but the whispers about her will soon become shouts once you get acquainted with Superconductor.

The album is a stark reminder of the Prince productions of yore as it's a throwback dreamscape of live instrumentation and meticulous rhythm crafting. Nowadays musicians can just listen to a Prince album (or twenty), catch a feeling, grab that special bass-line, emulate that infamous falsetto wail, and craft the "Prince-esque" songs that we describe in every music review ever penned in the new millennium. Prince presence is sometimes not even needed for an artist today to get catch a Purple feeling, but hearing Superconductor reminds one of the authenticity of having Prince right there next to you, whispering to you, licking his tongue out, telling you to purify yourself in the waters of Lake, oops, the brain slipped a bit...

Let me steer it back on track to say that Allo reminds me a lot of Taja Sevelle, an alum of the Prince academia who was on the come-up back in 1987. Her self-titled debut was rife with memorable singles, "Love Is Contagious" and "Wouldn't You Love To Love Me", as well as other cuts that had a paisley sheen to them. Still that sheen was quite sheer. Like Allo, Sevelle released an album that felt like Prince, but then really wasn't, as Sevelle's unique style and vocal phrasing was still all her own, and even "Love Contagious" was of her own scribe.

Superconductor, I'm glad to say, has those Prince touches we love, but he actually steps away from the production and lets Allo do her thing, not eclipsing or even eroding over the sweet charm she possessed on her debut. True, his Purpleness is obviously there in the background whenever those familiar bass-lines and oddball rhythms rattle and hum, but he's more like the parent lingering in the doorway as they watch their child get acclimated to kindergarten for the first time, instead of the helicopter parent right there at the table making a Play-Doh turtle.

While Allo is molding her own "turtles", Prince doesn't completely leave her high n' dry, as he produces and co-write three tracks of the nine tracks present. Also for support Allo strides alongside the New Power Generation, and fellow band mates Maceo Parker, Trombone Shorty, and Ida Nielsen, contribute in big ways, leading Superconductor's overall production quality to be greatly performed.

Though the music video tells another tale, "People Pleaser" is Allo's chance to woo us into her lair with her ability to funk and swing, and she dabbles in a little James Brown swivel too, as the first single shoots off. The title-track is pretty much a disguised six minute jam session that is peppered with , and it probably the most Prince-y thing you'll hear, right down to the skittish vocal phrasing and texture.

Though the sprawling funk workouts do work it's gems like "Yellow Gold" that gleam when little time is given. An instant favorite, "Yellow Gold" harbors a bassline that feels reminiscent of Mary Jane Girls' "All Night Long" and the song itself thumps on a jovial brass funk climb that is exquisite, crisp, and compact.

What is surprising on Superconductor is how actually mellow it is. True, you gotta catch breath when you've got "People Pleaser" and "Yellow Gold" jolting about, but the album holds an assumed impression of it being drenched in funky stuff, and it is jarring when the plush, "Long Gone" lays down after the sweat-out of the first two numbers. For sure, some may feel duped, but then again it marks a refreshing change of pace as the docile numbers give us the Andy Allo of the UnFresh years --- just more vastly matured this time 'round. The elegance of "When Stars Collide" rolls on for almost seven minutes like quiet thunder, and it's one of my favorite numbers here, along with the  morose 80's-esque meditative, "Nothing More" that I can't help but get lost within those lamenting guitars. Prince's co-pen "The Calm" rocks on a acoustic dreamboat, and it sounds quite single worthy.

It is noted that the life span of a Prince protégé is variant, unpredictable, and sometimes they never even get a chance to make a scene. This is the cripple uncertainty that sort of vibrates with Superconductor, sometimes impeding when I'm trying to enjoy every juicy moment that is laid out here as I keep thinking --- will Allo manage to rise above the Prince label or will she ruminate there to always being caught in the purple shadow? Over-analyzing aside, Allo sure has quite a solid effort in Superconductor, an album that silently gets Prince back into the producing gamut, as well as makes Allo a hefty contender for the new wave of soul enchantresses to come.

Release Date: November 20, 2012
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