What is soul music? It’s funny to Google this question and read through the results. The Oxford definition mentions music incorporating elements of rhythm & blues and gospel. Popularized by African Americans. Here’s my favorite part: characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s impossible to describe. It’s just sort of something you know when you hear it…or at least I think I do. I have a feeling my definition of soul is different from others. I believe there’s another element to it.
The “impassioned delivery” part of the definition scratches the surface of what I’m talking about. I feel soul music. I take the term “soul” too literally. I think of it as being called soul music because you feel it in your soul. When I hear D’Angelo sing “Higher” I feel it in my soul. Here’s the flaw in my thinking: When I hear “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince I feel it in my soul. When I hear “What They Do” by The Roots I feel the same. Ditto for “Get By” by Talib Kweli. I think most music aficionados would argue that “Higher” is a soul song and the rest are not. The others are hip hop songs, right? Maybe even a pop song in the case of JJ+FP. Yet I feel those songs in my soul. There’s something about the melody combined with the passion in their vocal delivery – be it singing or rapping – that I feel on a deeper level than most songs. To me that’s soul music. But again, I think I’m taking soul too literally. Maybe I am, once again, spending too much time worrying about genre like it actually matters. Only one thing really matters: I love these songs.
“Betray My Heart” from D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s 2014 album Black Messiah falls into that category as well. Even though it’s performed by D’Angelo, I’m not sure “Betray My Heart” falls into the soul category for most people. I don’t think it fits the “impassioned improvisatory delivery” criterion. It’s both uptempo yet remarkably chill. D’Angelo and The Vanguard practice a lot of restraint on this track. Yet I would call it soul. He’s singing about how he would do anything for his children. Check these lyrics:
Like the breeze that blows in June
I will steady keep you cool
This I swear with all that’s true
I’ll take nothing in place of you
When you’re feeling down down down
You, my soul, can depend on me
You don’t even have to fear
That my love is not sincere
I will never betray my heart
I know I feel that in my soul. That’s a beautiful sentiment and I thank D’Angelo for writing and performing it. Many of the songs from Black Messiah have a co-writer – often Kendra Foster – but there’s nobody else on “Betray My Heart.” Just D’Angelo putting his feelings for his kids on tape. Though specific band members are not credited on the songs in the Black Messiah liner notes, there are clearly other musicians playing on this track. D can play a lot of instruments, but at the very least that’s gotta be Roy Hargrove on trumpet. It sure sounds like a Pino bass line, but who knows? Could be D’Angelo. It doesn’t matter who plays it. It was written, arranged, and sung by D’Angelo. You can feel the love in this song. That’s music straight from D’Angelo’s soul.
I mentioned yesterday that I find this to be the spiritual sibling of “Spanish Joint” from D’Angelo’s 2000 album Voodoo. I swear I was feeling that the first time I heard this song. Uptempo but always under control. Motivational lyrics. Prominent horn section. Guitar parts reminiscent of the greats like George Benson and Grant Green. All of the elements are there. It did not surprise me in the least when I heard D’Angelo and The Vanguard’s Spotify Session and they opened the show with a medley of the two songs. In 2015 when they toured these two songs were paired as well. Check the video:
Man, if this performance doesn’t have you at the very least tapping your toes and nodding your head you need to check your pulse. D on vocals. Pino Palladino on bass. Chris Dave on drums. Isaiah Sharkey and Jesse Johnson on guitar. The Vanguard is incredible.
I’m done for today. Your assignment for today is to listen to “Betray My Heart” and then hug your kids and tell them you love them. Can you believe we’re down to less than 20 songs on the D’aily Song Randomizer? We’re into November and this fun ride will be done on Thansgiving. Unbelievable. Maybe D’Angelo will give us another album and I’ll extend this thing into December. I’m not holding my breath. Wednesday’s track is an interesting one. I mentioned when I wrote about “Jonz In My Bonz” that I have a clear least favorite song on each of D’Angelo’s album. Tomorrow is another one of them. I’ll get into that then and hopefully get some grief from readers who disagree. Enjoy “Betray My Heart” and make it a great Tuesday, everybody.