Ghetto Gothic

Melvin Van Peebles

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Ghetto Gothic Review

by Ed Hogan

These days, Melvin Van Peebles may be best known to later generations as the father of actor/director Mario Van Peebles of New Jack City film fame. But Van Peebles helped to ignite the gritty urban genre known as blaxploitation with his hit 1971 film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Van Peebles also influenced a lot of rap's forefathers (Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, as well as Tom Waits) through his style of story-songs, starting with 1967's Brer Soul. On this, his ninth release and his first for Capitol Records, he breaks a nine-year recording hiatus. His sing-speak delivery is at once reminscent of both Louis Armstrong, the comedy albums of Bill Cosby from the '70s, and the wild antics of cartoon voice artists Mel Blanc and Hans Conreid. The opening track, "Blinded by Your Stuff," begins with a grand choir and classical kettle-drum hits sounding like something out of Fantasia; it has a scorching, mid-song sax solo and is both funny and melancholy. "My Love Belongs to You" has Van Peebles delivering dry, drawling bluesy vocals over a pumping hip-hop track. The lightest track on the album is the mostly instrumental, catchy slide reggae number "Greasy Lightin'." Only a Van Peebles through his years of experience could compose a song like "Just Don't Make Sense," that lists the everyday contradictions of the African American experience.Some songs on Ghetto Gothic may be more suited for inclusion in musical stage plays, but Van Peebles started recording when such offbeat releases were commonly released by mainstream labels. As it stands, this is an idiosyncratic recording from an artist who has been doing cutting-edge work in film, theater and music for four decades.

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