Click to hear: “Can We Go Back”
Kenya Hall has one of the most soulful voices in Maine. Pity that it’s lost on this easily forgettable album.
Learning for Miles is a collection of vaguely funky lounge-jazz numbers that waft in one ear and out the other, leaving hardly a trace. The material is pleasant and well-played — some of Portland’s best musicians appear on this CD, like drummer D.J. Moore and bassist Stu Mahan — but the arrangements are boring and overlong.
Nearly every song bobs along on what sounds like the same mid-tempo groove. Choruses are distinguished from verses by a subtle change of key and the repetition of some banal phrase (e.g., “I’m still dreaming / Dreaming of you / Dreaming of me”). This ain’t your Godfather’s funk, and it’s a long way from Motown (in the wrong direction). It’s more like a less sophisticated Sade.
The first track, “Can We Go Back,” is fine in and of itself. Nigel Hall (no relation) contributes some choice Rhodes piano and a three-man horn section provides some welcome texture. But it’s followed by six more songs that mine essentially the same vibe.
This mush finally starts to take shape toward the end of the album. “Mury Go,” a noticeably slower song, reminds you how fine Hall’s voice is. “Till I See You” picks up the pieces and flashes a few funky edges. And at last, with the final song, we get a new arrangement: the warm, churchy call to compassion “Understanding,” written by guitarist/keyboardist Frank Hopkins.
Then, for no good reason whatsoever, the track ends with three minutes of silence inserted to set up a bullshit “bonus track” that isn’t a song at all, but rather 24 seconds of poorly recorded jive. Woe to anyone who puts this CD on their iPod.
My advice: pick out one song from Miles to add to your mix and move on.
— Chris Busby
The Kenya Hall Band plays Fri., Jan. 7, at The Big Easy (55 Market St., Portland) at 10 p.m. Call 775-2266 for cover (21+). For more on the band, visit kenyahallband.com.