Album Watch: Highway 85 & Agápe

Friday, December 28, 2012

Staggering to the finish line of 2012 I am, but the new music machine hasn't stop churning as two anticipatory mixtapes dropped during the holiday rush and quite deserved my undivided attention. Though, sadly, these two didn't get a chance to make the cut of my end-of-the-year list, I still wanted to give props to them before the year is out considering how much I have been spinning them as of late.

Austin Brown - Highway 85
It's a challenge to not note the shades of that Jackson blood linage in the folds of Austin Brown's debut mixtape, Highway 85. Also I can't help having: "If Michael was alive right now, he'd sound like this" scrolling through my brain. Still all that extra "thinking" does a disservice to Michael and Janet's nephew, whom entertains from start to finish on this eclectic set that is just bursting at the seams with star power. You might be familiar with a handful of the tracks present, as Brown released them sporadically throughout the year, but when they all come together on this, you get to really feel how cohesive and multi-talented Brown is. The breezy "Groove 92" and the funky rocket called, "City Of Angels" are immediate favorites, but what really stopped the show for me was "To Love Her", a gorgeous mid-tempo that no doubt recalls Uncle Michael, but gives ample focus on Brown as a songsmith and vocalist cut from his own cloth. [Download]

JoJo - Agápē
Another year, another mixtape/EP/thing-a-ma-jig from JoJo. *throws glitter in air* Save for a barrage of  interludes that kind of screw-up the flow (remember children, only Janet Jackson can get away with padding an album with interludes...), Agápē (which means "unconditional love" in Greek) is even stronger than her last foray into mixtapelandia, which was 2010's Can't Take That Away. Produced mainly by The Backpackkids, which features Mr. Highway 85 Austin Brown himself, the production crew give JoJo the right amount of hip-hop tinged R&B, and steamy soulful offerings that give justice to her vocal personality. My two favorite moments here are "We Get By" and the lovely "Billions", but the percolating ode to Andre 3000 and a up-tempo revamp of Joni Mitchell's "Free Man In Paris" (renamed "White Girl In Paris") are also tops. [Download]

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