By Cait Brennan, Jan. 1, 2015.

D’Angelo & The Vanguard | Black Messiah | RCA | 

It’s been 15 years since one of R&B’s most important and innovative young voices gave us his career-defining work. Following his 2000 release, Voodoo, D’Angelo basically vanished from the limelight. Uncomfortable with being marketed as a sex symbol? Troubled by substance abuse? An obsessive perfectionist working on his magnum opus? The tabloids used up a lot of ink guessing. But nobody, not even his label, saw it coming when he announced Black Messiah was ready.

Powered by passionate lyrics, timeless grooves and a once in a generation genius, Black Messiah is that rarest of treasures – a painstakingly crafted artistic and political statement, a transcendent thing of beauty, and also a seductively funky good time.

Scheduled for an early 2015 release, D’Angelo abruptly moved the release date to late December in the wake of the Ferguson and New York police shooting cases, feeling the need to make a strong statement. And strong it is. The withering lyrics of tracks, including “The Charade” rail against police gunning down unarmed protestors (“All we wanted was a chance to talk ‘stead we only got outlined in chalk”), while even the love songs (“Betray My Heart”) have a decidedly rueful tone. But don’t think for a minute that it’s all sad trombone; like Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Goin’ On, D’Angelo effortlessly balances the personal and political, the message and the music. The tasty funk jam “Sugah Daddy” is the kind of gem Prince would write if he were still this good. And such songs as “Back To The Future” (here in two parts) and “Really Love” are filled with Brian Wilson-worthy yearning in the most pared-down funk package. Strong contributions from the Roots’ Questlove add to the impact.

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