Various Artists

Red Star Sounds, Vol. 1: Soul Searching

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Arguably starting with the emergence of Erykah Badu in 1997 (or even with the Fugees in 1996) and gaining momentum with Macy Gray in 1999, a movement in black music called neo-soul, merging the traditionally expressive vocal sounds of R&B with hip-hop elements, has been a fast-growing part of popular music. Red Star Sounds, Vol. 1: Soul Searching codifies the sound to a degree. It is really a marketing exercise, co-sponsored by a beer company for promotional purposes and also serving as a label sampler for Epic Records, which has several neo-soul artists under contract, with more to come. But there is a consistency in the musical approach of Badu, Gray, Amel Larrieux, and Jill Scott, each of whom have included tracks, that justifies their assembly into a single package. The only other name artist on the album is Nelly Furtado, though, and the stars really serve to bait the collection, which is otherwise given over to new artists either recently signed to Epic (Glenn Lewis, Jack Herrera) or still seeking record contracts. They are a predictably mixed bag, and not all of them fit comfortably under the neo-soul umbrella. (Brad Young, in particular, sounds more enamored of older hip-hop sounds.) But the singing is consistently soulful, and the case is made that there is more of this kind of music where Badu and Gray came from.

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