@Baron3121 returns to Now It's On with his review of the new album from Andy Allo. Featuring major contributions from Prince, Superconductor is, to my ears, the best record Prince has been involved with since Musicology. Here are Baron3121's thoughts.
It is a bold move to release an independent album during the busy holiday season that begins in November and ends on December 25th. Any album that comes out during that time will be competing with sales juggernauts Alicia Keys, Rihanna and many others. Superconductor, the sophomore effort from Sacramento based Andy Allo was released, as promised, on November 20th to digital download stores around the world, with a physical CD now available as well. She takes the advice, “when a man screams you must learn to whisper” to heart. While there are four upbeat funk jams, the strength in Superconductor lies within the simple acoustic numbers and ballads.
Andy had been a favorite of the coffee house/small club scene in California before she was introduced to her friend and mentor Prince in 2011. The Purple One tries to push her musical boundaries with varying degrees of success. Prince has always obscured the details of his involvement in album credits and on Superconductor, the song remains the same. While only claiming co-writing credit on three of the album’s nine songs, “Superconductor”, “The Calm” and “Long Gone”, it would seem he was much more involved. The entire album is executive produced by Prince, under the moniker NPG, and uses the New Power Generation, including Prince himself, as musicians with guest appearances from horn legends Maceo Parker and Trombone Shorty. It would stand to reason that Andy wrote or co-wrote most lyrics as she did on her first release Unfresh, but when she sings songs in opposite gender as she does on “If I Was King” and “Long Gone”, it does not take a genius to figure out she forgot to reverse the original Prince lyrics. All of these details become irrelevant when you listen to the music. Real music by real musicians is all that matters.
The title track is a love song between two musicians. Andy sings that she wants to “be loved by a Superconductor. Every night another symphony”. It is an upbeat pop/funk burner that, especially towards the second half, is somewhat reminiscent of recent live renditions of “Controversy”. Musical metaphors abound as Michael Bland pounds the drums on this fun introduction to the NEW Version of Andy Allo. The next track is the lead single “People Pleaser”. Featuring the NPG Hornz and solos by Maceo Parker and Trombone Shorty, this song has no shortage of funk. This is a drastically different style from her first record and she is backed by musicians that have played with James Brown, Prince, Lenny Kravitz and George Clinton. It is hard not to bob your head and make that funky face when the horns kick in.
Three tracks in we get to see the real Andy Allo. “Long Gone” is a beautiful and haunting song about finally giving up on a relationship that has run its course and despite still loving each other, there is no fixing the situation. Letting go is a powerful move as she sings, “I always thought I would be your King, welcomed in your home. Now I hear another voice is trying to claim my throne. Please don’t try and find me, whereabouts unknown”. Featuring only Andy and a familiar sounding acoustic guitar, this song touches souls. “The Calm” builds on the strength of the previous song with more production but similar mood. Instead of giving up it speaks more to the side of making things better instead of giving up. With Andy’s soft sultry voice and Prince’s trademark keyboard stabs you will instantly fall in love. The track slowly builds adding more instruments with every verse, each time asking, “How long do you want the calm to be after the storm”. At the 4:30 mark you can hear in your mind where the screaming guitar solo would go if Prince had kept this one for himself. Maybe the fact that it is missing makes it better. Who is it that said, “expect the unexpected"?
“Yellow Gold” is the song that you cannot help but like. It is the kind of song you sing into your hairbrush in front of the mirror. It is funky, catchy, upbeat and sticks to your ribs. The infectious bass line is heavily influenced by the Mary Jane Girls' “All Night Long”. Is that Prince or Ida on the bass? Either way it is not to be missed. Andy sings that she seems to always like what she can’t have and wishes that she had some “Yellow Gold” because that is the 'kryptonite' of the object of her affection. Great lyrics and hook with vocal harmonies to match. The old school mood of this feel good track makes it a standout and potential single.
“Nothing More” reeks of purple. In the summer of 2011 on his Welcome 2 America Eurotour, Prince and Andy performed a mash-up of his Emancipation track “The Love We Make” with her song “Nothing More”. Sharing the same music, it is really hard to tell where one song ends and the next one begins. You can look at it as a part two or a tribute, but any way you look at it the song is amazing. Lyrically it contains some of the best moments on the album. “I wonder if I’m the only wisdom that u seek. Open me up I'll be the best book you’ll ever read”. Played almost the same as it was in concert it serves as a reminder to all those lucky enough to witness it live and it creates excitement for anyone yet to see the NPG in concert.
Sounding like something lifted from Sly and the Family Stone’s vault, “If I Was King” reminds us of when music was music. Once again pushing the limits of her comfort zone, this song succeeds based on the musicianship alone. Horns are featured heavily once again and Andy has said that it was a great time watching Maceo and Trombone try to outdo each other in the studio. The only puzzling thing about this track is it is sung from a male perspective as a man to a woman. With lines like, 'If I Was King she’d be my Queen and I’d make her mine for this and the next life time' and 'If I was her boy and she was my girl', it would have been easy to flip the lyrics or even change it to third person perspective. Minor details in an ultimately fun and funky track and check out those handclaps!
“The Story Of You & I” begs for a live acoustic performance. Imagine a late night TV appearance with only two people on stage, Andy backed by her mentor Prince on guitar. Again, this is where Andy Allo shines brightest, just her and a guitar. Simple, yet beautiful with lyrics that paint vivid pictures. “Every night you enter me as the sun enters the sea” and “Angels from the starry sky sing to us every night” help set the mood for the album closer.
Take one part Barry White's “Ecstasy”, sprinkle in the “Jam of the Year” lead line and finish with a dose of Macy Gray and you have “When Stars Collide”. If that is not Prince on the bass, then Ida has been learning from her boss. At 3:05 we are teased with some fuzz-tone feedback that usually precedes a wicked bass solo but instead we get a return to the slow churning groove that holds this track together. Running over six minutes, it would take a creative edit to make this a single however the catchy chorus would make that a worthwhile task.
In the middle of all the overproduced, cookie-cutter music that floods the radio now, it is refreshing to hear something so simple and organic. There are moments on this album where Prince, as a producer, takes Andy Allo from a coffee house crooner to a full blown Superconductor. However the best moments of Superconductor come when he lets Andy be Andy. Real music, real soul, real lyrics. Give Andy Allo a chance to prove that despite what she says, she is STILL a “People Pleaser”.
Superconductor was released November 20th as a download only by Allo Evolution and NPG Records. It has now also been released on CD, exclusively through Amazon.com.