From the 60’s to the 90’s, legendary R&B groups like The Spinners, The Temptations, The O’Jays, The Stylistics, The Whispers, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, to the more recent Boyz II Men and Jodeci, formed part of a list of artists who delivered captivating, mellifluous music with soul and simplicity. Current day statistics depict a whole different picture, of both the genre and the artists who frequent it. In essence, the core of the R&B and Soul genres seem all but abandoned. Gone are those classic, alluring melodies, the mesmerizing harmonies and the rich, almost endless vocal abilities. Today R&B lovers are forced to listen to a genre polluted with hip-hop, pop and every other hybrid subgenre imaginable. Once upon a time R&B singers sang the song and the rappers did a hook. Now singers are just doing the hooks. Worse still, the so-called singers are totally auto-tune assisted.
Truth be told, there has been a recent R&B comeback, with fresh young solo artists leading the charge, but the genre has morphed into an urbanized statement of explicit sex, bad language and severe cases of misogyny. And in the distance not even a sign of any R&B group on the horizon. Especially one capable of ignoring current-day trends, with enough courage to take the genre back to its roots and give it back its original magic formula.
Not until now, that is. Not until a collective called IMAGE, arrived on the underground scene, with a track called “Who Do You Love”. The four man vocal group made up of Johnny Mcknight, Kenneth Sexton, Jeff Nixon and Palmer Perkins, forge all of R&B’s primary charms mixed with a subtle New Jack twist, to beguile listeners.
“We are an adult contemporary group that believes true R&B music should always be sung from the soul,” says IMAGE. “We can appreciate and love all the styles of music that’s out now, and we also have songs that reflects our versatility in this area. But sometimes keeping it simple seems to be a dying art,” they conclude. And simplicity is the key behind “Who Do You Love”.
Right from the start, long term fans of the genre know they are in for a treat with this one. The perfectly written love song, to a slow to mid-tempo melody that’s just right, is an instant eye-opener of the immense talent these guys have. Smooth harmonies, shifting falsettos and an ear-warming melody bathe inside a richly layered production infused with resonant horns.
“Who Do You Love” is unashamedly old-school. Hence orphan to the misplaced complexities and over-wrought technical contamination of R&B’s new wave. If with their latest effort, IMAGE hopes to provide the remedy to the genre’s musical woes, attempting to win back R&B fans with a classic touch, while also reviving a stagnant contemporary scene, then for the most part, “Who Do You Love” produced by Charles Simmons succeeds in its mission.
I say for the most part, because from a purist’s point of view, this track is a winner hands down. On a larger scale, the true testament of what IMAGE is doing here, is how they will reopen the door for real R&B to come through and shine on a mainstream level, in a system heavily stacked against the classic purities of the genre. In the meantime, with “Who Do You Love”, IMAGE show us they’re up for the fight, and that’s a lot more than anybody else has done for the genre in the last 20 years!