I’m an album guy. I love making playlists for specific situations, but when I’m sitting around listening to music (which is about 80% of my life) I prefer to press play – even better, drop a needle – on an album and let it go. I’m probably giving a lot of popular musicians too much credit when I say that there’s a reason why albums are sequenced the way they are. The artist intentionally put them in an order and that’s how I prefer to listen.
It occurred to me while listening to “The Root” today that plucking a random song out of a bucket and asking people to listen to it is not the ideal listening situation, especially when we’re talking about D’Angelo’s 2000 classic Voodoo. To borrow a tired cliché, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. “The Root” is much more effective when you’ve listened to the seven tracks that precede it and follow it up with the final five tracks on the album. The album is a stunning 79-minute journey. That’s not to say that the songs can’t stand alone. I personally enjoy a song like “The Root” more when it gets the appropriate lead-in.
A great album is like a living organism. You can listen hundreds or even thousands of times and continue to find new wrinkles that you never noticed. You never know which song might jump out and grab your attention. One day this song is your favorite. Tomorrow it’s something else. It evolves with you. Add quality vinyl and good headphones to the mix and the experience is further enhanced. With all due respect to Cody ChesnuTT, Voodoo is my headphone masterpiece. No album has had me sitting on the floor next to my turntable with headphones and liner notes more than Voodoo and it’s not even close. I follow lyrics along with the songs like a kid with those old read-along stories.
I’m ashamed to admit that early on “The Root” was probably my 12th favorite track out of 13 on the album. It’s odd that as much as I love D’Angelo and all three of his albums I have a clear least favorite song on each album. We haven’t covered one yet, but I’ll elaborate when I get to one of them. For years I would skip “The Root” if I was in a hurry. It wasn’t on my D’Angelo playlist that I shuffle when I want to just hear a playlist of my favorites. Then one time I was listening to it and the vocals and guitar hit my ears and soul like a bolt of lightning. It had been hiding in plain sight for years, I just wasn’t paying attention. I’ve been obsessed ever since. It went from a frequently skipped track to a standout.
Some facts about “The Root”: It was written by D’Angelo, his brother Luther Archer, and guitarist Charlie Hunter. Everything was produced, arranged, and performed by D’Angelo with the exception of guitar and bass courtesy of Mr. Hunter. Like so much of Voodoo, “The Root” is a mid-tempo, mellow, bluesy jam thick with D’Angelo’s harmonies. Charlie Hunter’s guitar style on “The Root” and “Spanish Joint” are reminiscent of some of my favorite Grant Green work. Hunter has a custom guitar that allows him to play rhythm, lead, and bass guitar simultaneously and my brain just exploded trying to comprehend how he pulls that off successfully. Add some of my favorite D’Angelo songwriting and you get a masterpiece about a woman who has such an affect on D that he’s shaken to the core. The same kind of affect I got when I finally gave “The Root” the amount of attention that it deserves.
Just like that we’re two days into the week. It’s been eye-opening writing about D’Angelo songs every day because I can actually see the list getting shorter. With Prince I went for six months and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. It was mission impossible. With D’Angelo I can actually see the song randomizer getting smaller and smaller. It’s encouraging to find myself three weeks into a finite project. I’m still hoping D surprises us all like he did in 2014 and gives me 10-15 more songs to write about by the time I’m done with this. I’ll be glad to keep writing into December, or much longer if I’m being greedy.
Tomorrow’s song is a brilliant, funky cover that I mentioned in a post last week. We’ll dive deeper tomorrow. Enjoy your Tuesday.