The year 2016 was eccentric in R&B music. Beyoncé received acclaim critical acclaim and positive accolades for her Lemonade album. At the same time, Usher released one of his career’s worst projects with Hard II Love. Over on the independent scene, Anderson. Paak finally broke through to the mainstream with his sophomore album, Malibu, and R&B trio King released their Grammy Nominated debut We Are King.
Concurrently though, there was one indie album that may have fallen under your radar, Relationship Gumbo Redux from New Orleans based singer Vocalz Iz. The project was written entirely by the singer and features production from New Orleans bases producers such as TGill, J3, Raymond Dupelessis, and Charles “Chuck My’ Stro” Brown.
Relationship Gumbo Redux opens with “Gonna Get You,” an up-tempo number tailor-made for the clubs. The production recalls the late nineties R & B sound, which I love. I also appreciate the auto-tune omission, as we get a chance to hear the singer’s smooth vocals.
Given the title of track 2, “Jewel Thief,” I expected a vulgar song about the female anatomy in all honesty. However, the singer surprised me with his lyrics and the intent of the song. In hindsight, “Jewel Thief” is a Mr. Steal your girl song, but Vocalz puts his southern gentlemen spin on it. I must also give credit to the producer of the track Baby G.
Vocalz Iz keeps the grown man R&B flowing on the third track “Come Home,” which may be my favorite song on the album. Raymond Dupeliss, who produced the song, has excellent chemistry with the singer. I could easily hear “Come Home” featured in a romantic comedy where our hero attempts to get his lady love back.
The nineties & early 2000’s influence is also decadent throughout the album with “Letting Go,” giving listeners a Ruff Endz vibe. “Scent on My Pillow” is textbook Jodeci, and “I Can’t Have You” will remind you of Donell Jones. One of Vocalz’s strengths is paying homage one of the best eras in R&B without over singing or trying to imitate the singers with the vibe he was going for.
Southern soul is another influence prevalent throughout the album. “Young Love” is something I could easily hear played at a family fish fry while grandmother is in the kitchen, making her famous sweet tea. While J3 brings back the sped-up soul sample on “Nothing.”
The only song I didn’t care for on Relationship Gumbo Redux is “In the Shadows.” I wasn’t that fond of the production on the song, and it comes off as filler. However, the song is light years ahead of some songs from a particular singer who has released back to back double albums in the last three years.
Like the food of which of the album title derives from, Relationship Gumbo Redux is a noteworthy debut from New Orleans based singer Vocalz Iz. Successfully mixing old school flavor and vocal stylings with modern production, I highly recommend checking this project out.
Final Grade B+
Top Tracks: “Come Home,” “Scent On My Pillow,” and I Can’t Have You.