Three-quarters of Sade's back-up band make their album debut under the moniker Sweetback (as in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Melvin Van Peebles' 1971 trend-setting film). But whereas the svelte chanteuse makes music that suggests upper-crust, non-smoking jazz clubs, Sweetback's music is more "underground" in tone.
Guitarist/saxophonist Stuart Matthewman, keyboardist Andrew Hale, and bassist Paul Spencer Denman are definitely out to forge an identity of their own. They describe their music as "global soul music." It's a diverse mixture of ambient dub, trip-hop, retro soul, and slightly off-kilter jazz. They have a versatile group of guest performers to help them get their musical vision across. On the first single, the smooth "You Will Rise," Groove Theory vocalist Amel Larrieux caresses the optimistic lyrics: "I got a story that must be heard/about a little girl who wished she was a bird/she was unhappy living in a ghetto cage/but it gave her hope when her sweet grandma would say/baby you will rise."
Maxwell, whom the band backed on some of the tracks from his Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, croons softly on "Softly Softly." Vocalist Leroy Osbourne gives Bill Withers' "Hope She'll Be Happier" a tender reading.
Some of the instrumental tracks sound like film scores. While others, on first listen, may have you expecting to hear Sade's vocals come in. "Walk of Ju" would fit well in an introspective scene perhaps by an ocean with billowing waves. "Come Dubbing" is both goofy fun and lushly romantic. "Cloud People" is a perfect progressive lite jazz with its light rhythmic synth textures, noodling acoustic and Fender Rhodes pianos, and lazy sax runs. If you're looking for music to relax to, Sweetback is the right album to kick back with. ~ Ed Hogan