All-time favorites include “Nobody Can Be You” and “Weak At The Knees” from 1983, “Mellow As A Cello” and “Sugar Mama Baby” from 1984, both with Steve Arrington’s Hall Of Fame, and of course his groundbreaking stuff with funk/soul outfit Slave, where he was a member from 1978 until 1982, being responsible for timeless classics like “Just A Touch Of Love” (1979) and “Watching You” (1980). And don’t forget his 1985 smash “Feel So Real”. I remember his first solo album coming out in the summer of 1983 when I played both “Nobody Can Be You” and “Weak At The Knees” to death. They remain unbeatable anthems up to this day. Steve released his album “Pure Thang” in 2009 after a 20-year break and in the last couple of years collaborated with Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and George Clinton.
“Down To The Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions” is his first solo album in 11 years (there was one album in 2013 with Dām-Funk, too) and those familiar, one-of-a-kind vocals have lost none of its treats. He still sounds as fresh and soulful, funky and edgy as in the early 80s. Unlike many other soul and funk artists from the 80s who tried to come back with mediocre, nostalgic old-school soul trying to be contemporary, Steve surrounded himself with top-notch young indie producers and DJs, turning this album into an idiosyncratic, but still coherent modern indie soul album with Steve’s inimitable vocals blending it all together. One of the album’s highlights is the extremely soulful opener “The Joys Of Love”, produced by Devin Morrison (check out his great album “Bussin'” from 2019) and mndsgn, with warm keys and Steve sounding a bit like Curtis Mayfield in some parts. Sure sounds good to have him back, immediately bringing back sweet memories of the golden soul days of the early 80s.
Producer and multi-instrumentalist DJ Harrison is behind the brooding “Make A Difference”, a swampy, neo-soul catcher too sexy to ignore with its repetitive keys and horns. Just how Steve phrases the word “sometimes” speaks volumes. “Keep Dreamin'”, one of the tracks which have circulated as a single in the past months, produced by Shibo, is another midtempo soulful groover with enough knack to keep up the momentum. The very raw sounding 70s soul cut “Love Knows” with its “Too High”-style intro, produced by Brian Ellis, harks back to the best of Slave circa 1978. We also get a very jazzy, Thundercat-like, short intermezzo with “My Favorite Swing”, and another brilliant trip down memory lane with “Good Mood”; sounding as fresh and contemporary as can be. “Work On It” has an irresistible “People Make The World Go Round” groove and “You’re Not Ready” is a veritable tech house cut. I have to admit that it took a while before I was warming up to “Make Ya Say Yie”, produced by Knxwledge (Kendrick Lamar, Anderson.Paak), but the brilliant tune soon becomes something of a treasured gem with its weird hip-hop swagger and “kaputt”-sounding, but still fantastic aesthetic.
Handclaps are there, too. I would have been disappointed if they weren’t included. On “All I Wanna Do”, they propel a dreamy, floating jam produced by hip hop artist and DJ J Rocc. And finally, the early 80s are back again on the wonderful, breezy album closer “It’s Alright”, produced by Benedek, where Steve’s insisting vocals promise that he’s been “waiting for you, counting on you”, just as we’ve been waiting for this more than welcome return of one of the most consistently unparalleled voices.
The album is out since last month and the double vinyl edition will be available as soon as November 27th.