It would have been Leon’s 80th birthday today. He was working on an album before his health deteriorated and “Rainbow Deux”, only available on double-vinyl, with Leon’s own watercolor art on the cover, came out in September of last year. Six of the songs, recorded in 2012 and 2013, were already issued on a Japanese-only album, and tracks on offer were recorded with a stellar cast of musicians like Kamasi Washington, Stephen Bruner (Thundercat), Wayne Linsey, and Theo Croker, co-produced by Taylor Graves.
The double album combines everything that Leon impersonated: the silky sound, the quiet storm, the sensuality. And right from the start of this 12-song set, with the absorbingly percussive “For The Rainbow”, we are off to a wondrous journey, culminating in one of the best albums of his entire career. The magic of his one-of-a-kind lushness becomes apparent in the enormously sexy chorus which gets just about enough repetitions that it makes you want to come back to the song again and again. And again.
“Let Love In”, one of the songs from “Sigh”, and the ensuing four tracks “Sigh”, “The Darkest Night”, “Surrender Now”, and “Summer Is Her Name”, also from the same collection, are all classic Leon tracks. Mesmerizing, hypnotizing, simply intriguing peaces of swampy soul cuts with “Surrender Now” becoming my favorite of the bunch with its effective vocal arrangement and slowly shuffling beat, combined with a very melancholy sax work by Kamasi Washington. If you don’t surrender to this jam, you are not alive. It’s a masterpiece in subtleness. “Summer Is Her Name”, creeping keys work, tender sax work again by Kamasi, hip-hop drum breaks, gets moving along compellingly.
The next five songs are the newer songs again, finished around August 2016, six months before Leon’s passing. “Are You Ready” with its amazing synth and trumpet work (courtesy of Theo Croker), is mind-boggling. But it’s the slow funk of “Streets (Keep Me Runnin’)” which got me hooked, and still does five months after its initial release. Brings back memories to the Leon Ware/Marvin Gaye collaboration of “I Want You”. Amazing. The vocal arrangement with its layered voices is oozing eroticism. Leon was always a fan of anything Brazilian, hence his work with Marcos Valle in the past (remember “Rockin’ You Eternally”?), and so with “Samba Dreams” and “Wishful Thinking”, the latter again from “Sigh”, it is only natural that this element finds its way to this album, too. “Wishful Thinking”, a soulful samba with tender guitar and brooding percussion work, works extremely well.
And there are two more tracks. The midtempo ballad “Let’s Go Deep” once again shows the vocal prowess of Leon and “We Should Be Laughin'” features the fascinating vocals of Kimbra, with whom he worked in 2014 at a Minnie Riperton celebration. Another lesson in soul championship.