Sound: When I heard that Lenny Kravitz was working on a new album I had mixed feelings because I've had mixed feelings about his previous releases, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Predominantly, "Black And White America" is a funk/soul album that feels like it came straight out of the 70's with just enough rock edge to really give it some punch. There are some more straight forward rock songs on the album, too, but really this comes off as more of an album type of album instead of a collection of single songs type of album.
I've been really impressed with Lenny for a long time as far as his role as a multi-instrumentalist and his recording and writing technique. I've read that Lenny has been working on this album on and off since 1997. It has gone through 2 tentative titles before landing as "Black And White America". Initially, the album was going to be called "Funk" and was scheduled to release in 2010, and then the name changed to "Negrophilia", but finally the name changed to "Black And White America" and the release was changed to 2011. I'm really happy with the end product, and I think I'm going to have to buy this on vinyl as well as CD.
While Lenny has never really been known for his guitar soloing, I was really impressed with the heartfelt soloing on this album, although they were brief and few. I know that occasionally he works with other guitarists on his albums and I would really like to know if he "composed" and recorded these solos himself or if this was the work of another guitarist. Either way, it absolutely worked on this album and was really powerful stuff. "Black And White America" clocks in at over an hour, and every minute of it feels like a worthwhile investment of listening time. // 8
Lyrics: Lenny is really lucky or talented in having a voice that can really pull off a lot of different things that all come off as being in his comfort zone. His voice always sounds natural in what he is singing whether it be harder rock or a soft and high love song. The lyrics are personal and powerful on "Black And White America", going from pondering memories, expressing feelings of love, and expressions of hope.
The lyrics from the title track tell the story of racism in America and moving forward to see beyond color, etc., including mentioning his own parents and alluding to their struggle during the 60's as a multi-racial couple. The other songs are just as personal and honest in their lyrics, and again, Lenny does an amazing job delivering vocals in a way that seems natural and fits into each song like a puzzle piece. // 8
Overall Impression: The guitar solo from "Come On Get It" is where this album won me over. It was the best of old school soloing modernized and translated. "Rock Star City Life" is a pretty solid track. My favorite song on the album is a pretty close tie between "Everything" and "Superlove". I really enjoyed the vast majority of "Black And White America", but some of my other favorites were "Life Ain't Ever Been Better Than It Is Now", "In The Black" and "Dream" (which really reminds me of a lot of the solo releases of John Lennon).
I think that there are some people who will not like this album because they are going to want to hear an album of tracks like "Are You Gonna Go My Way", "Fly Away" and his cover of "American Woman". This album does have some straight rock songs, but really is a lot of soul, funk, R&B with just a dash of rock. There are actually a few songs that have a distinctly new wave feel to me, as well. I think that Lenny's attitude towards music is very progressive in that he understands his music and vision as a whole and doesn't pigeonhole himself into writing in a specific genre. Again, if you are looking solely for recreations of Lenny's more hard-rocking songs you may be disappointed by "Black And White America", but if you listen to the album with an open mind you can't help but being drawn in by it and impressed. // 8
- Brandon East (c) 2011