That Mark Anthony Thompson
went nearly a decade between releases says something about both record companies' perception of what, indeed, black music is and the realities of a business situation where the individual approach is the least likely thing to get any cohesive support. Happily, Black Music
found Thompson on top of his game thanks to his talent and wide-ranging tastes, which have a clear echo in the reach of the album. He may start with a Dixieland jazz-meets-folk number and end with a hidden acoustic rendition of the fantastic slow-burn soul "Half a Man," but in between he tries just about anything that takes his fancy. Comparisons were made to similarly genre-elusive singer/songwriters like Prince
and Jeff Buckley
upon Black Music
's release, but Thompson is his own man through and through. His voice tackles ranges from falsetto to gravelly blues and comes up trumps, while his ear for hooks and varying approaches skip between greasy R&B to acoustic, art rock-tinged introspection -- it's not too surprising after listening to songs like "Stupid Again" to learn that he's a Radiohead
fan. If there's a weakness to Black Music
, it's that Thompson's strong enough to avoid sounding like an aimless dabbler, but at points can't really make his syntheses stand out as well as could be hoped. When he hits, though, he hits hard. "My Mom," a tender, harrowing reflection on the ravages of time on memory and personal connection, has both the lyrical and musical impact to matter, with Thompson's husky singing backed by acoustic plucking, low strings, and the softest of rhythms. Other strong points include "Safe and Sound," with its rising, anthemic build suddenly shifting into a roughly recorded drum jam without missing a step, and the moody-yet-pretty crawl of "Hangover Nine," one of several moments on the album where he showcases his fine sax abilities.