Multi-talented singer, songwriter Bruno Mars was already performing as an Elvis Presley impersonator at the early age of four. The meticulousness with which he appropriates past musical eras may have its origins here. Anderson .Paak put the dot in his stage name in order, according to his own statement, to always be reminded of the importance of details. So two brothers in spirit met in 2017 as Anderson opened the European leg of Bruno’s latest tour.
The Silk Sonic project essentially began from a first studio session in the same year. “It snowballed. And it was like, well, want to come back tomorrow? And we kept coming up with music. It felt like why you fall in love with music in the first place. And jamming with your buddy… There’s no plan, just working out the parts and trying to excite each other,” Mars said.
If the COVID pandemic hadn’t forced the artists to take a break, it might have remained jamming. So the two artists found the time to complete the joint project.
The result is “An Evening with Silk Sonic”, an album with nine songs that celebrate the symphonic Soul music of the 70s and its protagonists like the Stylistics, The Delfonics, The O’Jays or The Dramatics.
Already with their first single “Leave The Door Open”, Mars and .Paak had stirred up great expectations back in spring. It was as if a previously unknown Philadelphia International Records single by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes had been discovered, sounding as fresh as if it had been stored in Tupperware for decades.
The sonic precision with which the duo recreated the sound of the 70s on their first single can be found on the entire album. No nuance of the sound is left to chance. Vintage instruments were sourced, some of the recordings were made at the legendary Memphis Royal Studios, where soul icon Al Green recorded his albums. A veritable wall of authentic soul sound caresses the listener with congas, glockenspiel, yearning strings and gentle piano lines.
The knightly accolade of authenticity is the participation of P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins, who leads through the album as host and even contributed the name of the project. And one has to admit that it is great to hear his unique voice again.
The latest single, the gorgeous heartbreak ballad “Smokin’ Out The Window” is great fun, not least because of the accompanying video. When was the last time you saw cigarettes as a central element of a choreography?
With “Fly As Me” and “777” the funk is not neglected either, whereby Anderson .Paak’s hip hop roots are most obvious here. The uplifting roller rink jam “Skate” is definitely one of the highlights of the album. This music is clearly about ‘good vibrations’ as Silk Sonic sing in “Blast Off”.
The penchant for attention to detail sometimes makes the music run the risk of sounding too polished. Silk Sonic deliver wide-screen soul with pop perfection. The slightly dirty, uncontrollably emotional element of soul music is sought in vain. This is definitely more Motown and Philadelphia International than Stax
It is important to understand, that we are not listening to pop starlets who have had a retro image tailored to them by a legion of songwriters and producers, but to two musicians and songwriters who, with Silk Sonic, live out their passion for a musical era that has had a decisive influence on their development as artists.
In a certain sense, this record is also a work of artistic freedom, which Bruno Mars has earned not least as a Grammy Award winner and multi-million record seller. Thus, despite all the perfection and marketing hype, the album is a matter of the heart of two collaborators who have become friends.
“An Evening With Silk Sonic” is a treasure chest that recreates the feeling of finding a box of dusty soul records in your grandparents’ attic and hearing that music for the first time. An album full of playfulness and great, detailed music, made by artists who know this jubilant feeling from their own past.