Michael D'Angelo Archer is one savvy singer. Not only does Voodoo, his sophomore album, powerfully twine '70s funk and '90s hip-hop, it evokes a time when soul music embodied the promise of racial crossover. These days, as the charts alternate thug rap and bimbo pop, that promise -- and such sophisticated sexiness -- is hard to find. On Voodoo, one of the best CDs of the year, D'Angelo rings cross-cultural bells loud and clear. Not only does the Funkadelic-inspired disc offer more than an hour of huff, chug, and slink, it's also a remarkable blend of texture, attitude, and homage to soul music's past and suggestions of its future. Buoyed by the deft work of contemporary jazzmen such as trumpeter Roy Hargrove and guitarist Charlie Hunter, D'Angelo croons, rasps, and sugars his way through the ambiguous, ominous "Playa Playa," the sunbaked "Spanish Joint," the twisty, sultry "Chicken Grease," and "Africa," a tribute to his roots cowritten with his brother Luther, his former lover Angie Stone, and Roots drummer Ahmir Thompson. D'Angelo sings in many voices; you can hear echoes of Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Smokey Robinson, and, for sure, Prince in his inspiring articulations. But he's also his own man -- especially since Sly's been missing in action for decades, Gaye and Mayfield are dead, Robinson's been more executive than artist for years, and Prince isn't as relevant as he once was. The voicings may be the first thing you notice about Voodoo, but D'Angelo's voice is what sticks. Even the message -- that it's hard to be a man in a society in which the way you work the corners is what really counts -- hits hard and smooth.
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