The Pendulum Vibe

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The debut album from soul diva Joi fell through the proverbial music industry cracks upon its release, largely because it was not easily categorizable by the standards of the time -- not pure enough for mainstream urban radio, too funky and eccentric for the rock charts. It is a lamentable fate, since The Pendulum Vibe has a whole lot to offer listeners across a wide spectrum of pop music. Dallas Austin, something of a dilettante himself, produced and played a lion's share of the instruments on the album, and co-wrote most of the songs with Joi. Their songwriting veers rebelliously, and often wondrously, through a wide range of stylistic influences, from rock-inflected soul wailing on "Freedom" to the nightclub-smooth R&B of "Fatal Lovesick Journey" to slow, lustful funk on "Narcissa Cutie Pie" and the fascinating drone "If We Weren't Who We Were." As if to prove her versatility even more adamantly, Joi even takes on an 18th-century Latin motet from Gasparini, not your average source material for soul. At each shift she avoids every conventional ghetto into which she could conceivably be thrust -- like LaBelle, Rufus, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz before her -- likely the album's major downfall but also its greatest legacy. In retrospect, The Pendulum Vibe seems like a predecessor to and trailblazer for artists like Dionne Farris and Erykah Badu, as well as an integral influence on the neo-soul movement launched later in the decade, particularly with such artists as Kelis and Amel Larrieux. And it emerged from the same fertile, funkadelic Hotlanta that, during the same time frame, gave rise to or served as the nerve center for far-out groups like OutKast, Goodie Mob (whose Big Gipp has been Joi's longtime significant other), and Organized Noize. The conscientious "Freedom" became a minor hit when featured as the theme to the movie Panther; otherwise, The Pendulum Vibe sank much more quickly than it deserved. It has since become a bit of cult album for fans of adventurous soul music.

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