Nightmares On Wax, Feelin' Good

Jason Randall Smith

Nightmares On Wax, Feelin' Good [Warp]

Somewhere in the world, there is someone who still has the Smokers Delight album in heavy rotation. That release along with Carboot Soul solidified a musical career for George Evelyn, best known to most as Nightmares On Wax. As one of the first artists on the Warp Records roster, his releases could always be counted on to serve as a meeting place for hip-hop, soul, funk, and dub to have a rhythmic exchange. His latest album suggests that not much has changed, which is a welcome relief in a world of constant flux. Feelin' Good positions Evelyn as the reassuring big brother on the scene, convincing listeners through his eternally chill vibes and steadfast optimism that everything's going to be okay.

“So Here We Are” immediately ushers his returning fans and newcomers into a sonically safe space as muted thumps and bongos cushion heartfelt trumpet solos and sensitive strings. This relaxed environment morphs into jazz-inflected down tempo on “Luna 2” with cool rhythm guitar riffs brushing up against electronic tom tom pads and mellow keys. Evelyn's personality is perhaps best captured on the springboard reggae lean of “Be, I Do,” which playfully skips through folksy guitars and piano over throaty bass pulses that contain a bullfrog's resonance. The repeated phrase “be the most magnificent / live a life that's benevolent” sounds like a mission statement that practically sums up Evelyn's existence, a Zen-like credo wrapped up in sunbeam- soaked beats that bounce without a care in the world.

His collaborative spirit is on full display during this album, as evidenced by the beautifully orchestrated soul of “Master Plan” featuring vocalist Katy Gray, her smoky tones an alluring cross between Billie Holliday and Martina Topley Bird. Shades of Marvin Gaye show up through Moses' crooning on “Give Thx,” a honey-sweetened soul tune encased in organ vibrato, reflective horns and flowery flutes. Overflowing with gratitude and appreciation, it's the aural equivalent of a bear hug for Evelyn's supporters. Lest anyone think that Feelin' Good is strictly laid back grooves, “Eye (Can See)” takes things to the dance floor with a mid-tempo Latin strut that's chock full of cut-up melodies and percussion. “Tapestry” works the crowd even harder, dipping into the disco bag for a endless bass loop peppered with rearranged vocal harmonies and fragments of breaks re-worked in Evelyn's dub chamber.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Feelin' Good is the mile-wide grin that ties one song to another, turning the album title into an action term. After more than 20 years in the game, one might expect George Evelyn to pick up some cynicism along the way. If so, it's nowhere to be found on this release. Instead, he continues his tradition of causing heads to nod and asses to move, wisely choosing not to reinvent the wheel. There's no need to fix what isn't broken and this album marks a welcome return for an artist whose beginnings are inextricably tied with Warp's genesis as a label.

 
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