Review: Bilal, A Love Surreal

Bilal

A Love Surreal

eOne Music

Coming at the end of the so-called neo-soul music movement, Bilal released his debut, 1st Born Second (Interscope), in 2000 to much fanfare and moderate sales. With an off-kilter voice that, a decade later, served as a rhythmic blueprint for the sonic strangeness of Frank Ocean and Miguel, the Philly native was hailed as the next big R&B thang.

While Bilal shared songwriter and producer credits with Dr. Dre ("Fast Lane") and J. Dilla ("Reminisce"), the label had voodoo dreams of having their own new jack bohemian whose music recalled the brown-sugar boogie of D'Angelo or Maxwell. Yet the former gospel singer had other plans. Merging the musical borders between deep soul and free jazz sensibilities, Bilal's follow-up disc, Love For Sale (2006), was leaked but never released by the house that Jimmy Iovine built. Not long afterward, Bilal was dropped from the label.

Returning from the woodshed in 2010 with the critically acclaimed Airtight's Revenge (Plug Research), Bilal hasn't strayed from his musical path on his wonderful third outing, A Love Surreal.

While the first few tracks warm our ears by paying homage to various pop influences like Prince ("West Side Girl") and Steely Dan ("Winning Hand"), the weirdness kicks in with the laid-back ambient funk of "Climbing" and doesn't let go.

Teaming up with co-producer/drummer Steve McKie and their regular band, Bilal splices in bits of country ("Lost for Now"), a Bacharachian anthem of lost love ("Slipping Away"), and in a duet with pianist Robert Glasper, the beautiful jazz ballad "Butterfly."

While the different styles would sound schizophrenic if recorded by most other artists, with A Love Surreal, aural auteur Bilal has delivered another electrifying project. (Michael Gonzales)

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