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REVIEW: Zo! – ‘Sunstorm’

27/07/2010

Well folks the wait is over. It is now July 27th and you can all get your hands on one of the most anticipated albums of the year, Zo!’s Sunstorm.

The Detroit producer / multi-instrumentalist has been honing his craft for years releasing EP’s along the way, however it was hooking up with Phonte (and the rest of the Foreign Exchange crew) that really saw the tables turn and saw Zo! gain some much deserved attention. After working with FE on their Grammy nominated Leave It All Behind album, and releasing the free EP …just visiting too, all was on course for him to become a member of the +FE Music label and release his full-length debut.

According to Zo! himself, Sunstorm has been a real labour of love, and has been ‘in the works’ for several years. Often this can make an album sound a little dis-jointed, but that is certainly not the case here. Assembling a line up of some of THE most talented vocalists of our time, Zo! has managed to create one of the rarest of beasts, a producer-led album, containing numerous vocalists, that actually sounds like a complete, concise album rather than a cobbled together compilation. Off the top of my head I can only think of the legendary Quincy Jones and Incognito’s Bluey who have truly mastered this concept.

Listen to WHOLE album here

Usually I’ll do a track my track dissection of an album when i’m reviewing it, however in the case of Sunstorm i’ve decided to abandon that idea, I can’t help but feel that it would somehow take away from that first listening experience for those who have yet to hear it. There are a few tracks I have to mention briefly though. First is ‘Greater Than The Sun’ featuring Phonte. This track, more so than any other on the album, brings to mind FE’s (now classic) Leave It All Behind, and acts as a kind of bridge between the two albums (a good idea as this is how many people will have gotten into Zo!’s work). Phonte mixes up the singing and rapping here, producing a real laid-back, summertime groove which acts as the perfect intro to the rest of the album. For me the album standout track is ‘Free Your Mind’ featuring Lady Alma. Best known for her house/dance-orientated recordings alongside 4hero and MdCL, it’s great to hear her hypnotic vocals bounce along on a slightly more soulful beat. Keeping things nice and relaxed for the first half of the track, she changes it up for the second half, injecting a little more rawness and some scatting up there with Ledisi and Jill Scott.

The ‘surprise’ track of the set for me was ‘If I Could Tell You No’ featuring Jesse Boykins III. I’ll admit i’m late, late, late when it comes to this guy but i’ve vowed to check for him after hearing this song. First of all the instrumental here is beautiful, and I could quite happily listen to it as a stand alone piecec over and over. A little more ‘jazz’ than the rest of the more soulful offerings, It would sit happily on Jose James’ Black Magic album, but rather than sounding out of place it acts as the perfect intro to the two-step anthem ‘This Could Be The Night’, which just goes to emphasise Zo!’s musical genius, effortlessly flitting from one style to another while maintaining cohesiveness throughout.

The final track I will mention is album closer ‘Make Luv 2 Me’ featuring Monica Blaire. I’ve been a fan of Monica for some time and her debut still gets regular rotations over here, but I have to admit her pairing with Zo! definitely brings out the best in her vocally. Recalling the best of Floetry’s slow-jams, this track will surely become an essential addition to anybodys ‘Bedroom Mix’. On a set as brilliant as this it’s easy to get carried away praising individual songs and/or vocalists, but it’s essential to not lose sight of the fact that it’s Zo!, the man behind the music, who has expertly crafted an album that flows seamlessly from start to finish, with not so much as a blip on the way. His artistic vision is enviable, and he certainly has an album to be very proud of.

I do not doubt that this album will make it to the top of many a year-end list come December, and rightfully so. I’d even go as far as to whisper the words ‘Grammy worthy’ … after all the Foreign Exchange have already made their mark there. I guess only time will tell, but if Sunstorm is anything to go by, then we have MUCH more to look forward too from Zo! and friends in the future.

Buy Sunstorm

Digital (iTunes): UK / US

Physical / mp3: +FE Music

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 27/07/2010 4:49 pm

    Excellent review of an incredible album. We had some varied perspectives on some songs (i.e., Free Your Mind), but it illustrates how SUNSTORM speaks to different parts of a listener’s soul.

    Cheers!

  2. vivrant thang permalink
    28/07/2010 10:21 pm

    Word! Word! Word! I won’t hesitate to say that this album is definitely Grammy-WINNING worthy. Zo has done it again. His talent (and that which he seemingly so effortlessly assembles) continues to astound me.

    The highlights for me are Make Luv 2 Me, Free Your Mind (Lady Alma is SICK), Greatest Weapon of All Time, and Flight of the Blackbyrd is simply genius. Phonte’s crooning over Zo’s instrumentation sends me swinging.

    Hell, there are NO skips here. It’s a complete album. The more I listen, the more I want to put it on the same level as LIAB. And we know how epic that one was. Another slam dunk for FE.

    Great review.

  3. 13/09/2010 12:50 am

    absolutely incredible album, especially “flight of the blackbyrd”, almost perfect byrd/humphrey rendition – amazing ;D

Trackbacks

  1. Zo! is Coming Through! | Vik's Pad
  2. ARTWORK/TRACKLIST: Foreign Exchange Return With ‘Authenticity’ « Soul:UK

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