Interview By: Melody Charles
It’s been almost three years since the St. Paul, MN-based R&B band, Mint Condition, released their fifth studio CD, Livin’ The Luxury Brown: one of the most hotly anticipated releases of their career at the time, ….Brown ended their fan’s painfully Mint-less five year wait, and was their first release under the band’s independent label (distributed by Image Entertainment).
The CD debuted at number one on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart and also providing the band with their eleventh R&B hit, “I’m Ready.” Offering a smorgasbord of musical styles and emotions….Luxury Brown deftly demonstrated why they were so missed to begin with: after all, many artists can carry a tune or write a hook, but Mint Condition remains the lone self-contained band of its generation.
Now back in the mix with eLife, Mint Condition decided to switch it up in more ways than one, focusing on a modern approach to music in both presentation and subject matter. “It’s relationships in the information age,” states keyboardist Larry Waddell. “You text-message, use MySpace and e-mail…we’re having the same old relationships in the context of our (modern) world today. ”
It’s an admirable premise, and after two decades together, any band could stand to update its template now and then. In keeping with the idea of mixing foreign and familiar, there are also a few guest chefs added to season the stew (Little Brother’s Phonte, Anthony Hamilton and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Mahammed). If the new voices seem like strange choices to listeners, the band certainly doesn’t see it that way. “We’d done some dates with Anthony Hamilton—-we did the Tom Joyner cruise together last year—and our relationship developed from there,” says saxophonist and keyboardist Jeff Allen. “The song was right up his alley, and he did his thing on it. We ran into Phonte in NC and were always a fan of his work, so we kept in touch. And we’ve always had a relationship with Ali.”
However, it’s what’s missing that stands out the most—the spontaneity that abounds when live instrumentation is used. In other words, what makes Mint Condition so unique and so revered as artists, that live element in their songs, is, ironically, absent from eLife.
Not that the tracks aren’t well-written, well-produced or well-performed; after all, MC’s most unique instrument, Stokley Williams’ sinewy, elastic tenor, remains at the forefront. He conveys warmth and affection on their first single and unabashed pro-child anthem, “Baby Boy Baby Girl,” as it gently admonishes parents who’d rather indulge in a networking site or courtroom antics than spend quality time with their kids.
“Somethin’ ” is a simmering up-tempo track that puts a woman’s duplicitous intentions on blast: “All of a sudden, you turn around/and serious is what you want to be now. You can’t be my baby, and still be out here dating/hey that’s just not the way that I get down,” seethes Williams.
The undulating “Golddigger” and its most traditional R&B number, “Nothin’ Left to Say,” are also enjoyable standouts. Another band member with admirable pipes, bass guitarist Rick Kinchen, adds edge to “Wish I Could Love You” and the experimental, hip-hop inspired “Why Do We Try,” where both he and Williams are positioned against the desolate track as bachelors weighing the pros and cons of settling down: “Although I’ve found someone to fulfill my needs,” Rick muses, “why do I need to question how it should be?”
All in all, Mint Condition deserves credit for stepping out on a limb stylistically, and like Mr. Kinchen says, the band can’t always be expected to make the same album over and over again, but come on; where is the rock-out abandon of …..Luxury Brown’s “Fallin’ Apart”? What happened to the vocal veracity found in “Look Whatchu Done 2 Me,” or the lush, instrumental interludes? Why rush to put out a new CD if it doesn’t represent the totality of one’s abilities and talents?
Don’t get it twisted; eLife is certainly better than what most other R&B performers are releasing these days, but it’s not on the same par as its predecessor, which is as unnecessary as it is unfortunate. Mint Condition has no other real competition other than themselves, and in this case, the band should’ve maintained their unique standards instead of forsaking or diluting them.
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