1. Plastic Hamburgers
2. Bad Guy Necessity
3. A Letter to Fear
4. A Boy Names Andrew
5. Transgender Biscuits
6. The Suit That Won't Come Off
7. A Cold November Street
8. The Duffler
9. Dark Windows
10. Never Give Up
11. Bullshit Anthem
Fantastic Negrito's (aka Xavier Dphrepaulezz) new album 'Please Don't Be Dead' is an incredible collection of songs influenced in part by the state of America and current affairs as well as his own personal journey of reinvention, and is the follow-up to 2016's Grammy Winning 'The Last Days Of Oakland'. If you're not familiar with him, he creates a really interesting take on Blues music - staying true to the roots of the genre, but updating it for a contemporary audience and blending Funk and Soul influences into the mix - it's really unique. He also has an incredible backstory - in short, he fled from Oakland to LA and signed a failed million dollar record deal, and later was involved in a car accident which left him in a coma and with permanent damage to his playing hand. Indeed the cover has him in a hospital bed.
He fought hard, enduring hours of painful physical therapy, and in 2008, returned to Oakland where he embarked on a new life as an urban farmer growing vegetables and other, more profitable, green matter. After becoming a father he cleaned his life up and began writing music again.
‘Plastic Hamburgers’ Grabs you by the neck and hauls you into the album with its sweet Blues Rock intro. It starts with a Zep vibe with heavy bass rolling through the guitar licks. ‘And if we keep buyin' everything that sells, American pills will wreck and kill us, yes they will’ he warns. The chorus is funky and in the mid section there are horns that add a wicked complexity to the track.
'Everybody needs a bad guy, they need somebody to blame.' Is the message in ‘Bad Guy Necessity’, and isn’t that a fact! This oozes with 70’s style funky Blues, with a swaggering Funk guitar and metronome drums. The chorus is full of soul with complimenting backing vocals. All the way through there are spiky guitar licks. So from a rocking start we are now grooving.
‘Do you know what the most frightening thing in the world is? It's fear’, Negrito seems to be rallying against all the doom and gloom surrounding us with ‘Letter To Fear’. The groove is slow, and sluggish conveying the feeling of being dragged down under the weight of the world. The track lightens up when his resilience kicks in, ‘Whatever you do to me, I will carry on’. Again, the vocals are soulful, the type of soul that comes from the heart and from bitter experience. There is a great organ solo towards the end, further lifting the soul.
'A Boy Names Andrew’ is a rootsy track with a chant going throughout which is almost mid eastern. This is contrasted with his soulful vocal delivery. A real track of contrast and contradiction. It does not seem to know what it wants to be, what it ends up being is wickedly unique and delicious. Then follows a track which is baffling. 'Transgender Biscuits’, whilst having one of the strangest track names, really confused me, and I spent ages trying to think how to describe it. It is most certainly a unique track with multiple personalities, it takes us back to the summer of love with a swinging Hendrix like delta Blues guitar riff and then, within a few seconds we are looping around vocally and musically going back and forth. I don’t know what just happened but I kind of liked it. The only way to appreciate it is to hear it. I suspect this 3 minute track could turn into a 15 minute trip live!
To restore some Blues order, ‘The Suit That Won't Come Off’ is undeniably traditional Blues, with low rumbling keys and guitar licks piercing the number. Negrito’s vocal, again is from the heart but with a gruff 40s or 50s Blues pain. The sort of vocal delivery that launched a thousand bands. Slow and plodding like walking across a quagmire with the weight of the messed up world on your shoulders, as he enquires ‘How do you sleep when you’ve stolen everything you have?’. 'A Cold November Street' is the same tempo and has the same ambiance of hard grind ‘Same time in the morning, same time in the evening’. A real song about hopeless and helplessness, but with a great end vocal and organ outro.
'The Duffler' changes tack again, although the subject matter is just as hopeless. ‘I ain't got no money, and I ain't got nobody. And I ain't got no place to live no more, 'Cause you took everything’. This time however the funky groove is back. The gruff old Blues vocal is replaced with a pitch perfect falsetto. If you were not listening to the lyrics, you would be funking on down to this, especially with the light guitar solo. A great summer track to celebrate hopelessness.
After the hard edges and chaos that followed it, ''Dark Windows' , is dreamy, sweet and warm. A song that you can float away on. The guitars are replaced with gentle snare and organs. Cellos weave through in the back ground. Negrito’s vocals are gentle and full of melody, instead of gruff or funky. The song is as beautiful as it is simple. Simpler still is 'Never Give Up', which is more like a reprise at just over a minute long. Again it is dreamy with the soft line ‘Sunshine, walking in rain, walking through the city’ and ‘Never Give Up’ rapped over it. Who said you need a long track to make a point?
The album funks off in style with ‘Bullshit Anthem’. of ‘Take that bullshit, turn it into good shit’. The message is simple and leaves you with a feel good factor, no matter all the crap that is going on in the world at the moment. The lyrics are delivered with soul, mixed with Blues and the melody will stick with you for a long time. You can learn to play the Blues, you can copy funkmeisters and play Funk and you can dabble with soul. But only someone who has lived through adversity and come out at the other side, only to find out that the world has gone stark raving nuts can deliver it with this authenticity. Fantastic Negrito makes it seem easy, and that is probably because it oozes from every pore of his being. Listening to this album convinces you that the Blues are running through his veins.
This is a unique album, with a fusion of styles that go together like Rhythm and Blues. It is an insightful album that should be celebrated. If 'The Last Days Of Oakland' earned Fantastic Negrito a Grammy, then this album might earn him a twin.
'Please Don’t Be Dead' is released on June 15th and you would be certifiably insane not to grab a copy.
Website - fantasticnegrito.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/fantasticnegrito/
Review - Tony Creek