Moodymann serves up one of his most distinctive and emotive albums. An instant deep house classic.
Moodymann remains house music’s master storyteller. In each album, in each song even, a context is provided, elevating the songs from beats and melodies to songs with deeper meaning. A insight and understanding is therefore developed between the listener and the producer, a connection that transcends Moodyman’s jazzy chords and fuzzy drums to a place where his comtempories treaded less. Stories, snippets, phone calls, interviews powerfully permeate Moodymann’s music, providing a sense of realism in his music, a boundary to his beautiful music.
The 1998 album Mahogany Brown is no except to this rule, and in fact reinforces this rule to the 8th degree. In-between more conventional house tunes lie ones that weave in and out, ebbing and flowing with a narrative that leaps out of the speakers and into your ears. The opener, ‘Radio’, sets the scene, with various snippets from interviews and stations (with one interviewee sounding like the Electrifying Mojo, arguably the most influential figure in 80s and 90s Detroit Electronic music). Despite being beatless, and containing little musical elements, the interviews cover a range of feelings and moods, and very much provides the blue print going forward for the rest of the album. ‘Sunshine’ follows, and in keeping with the flowing narrative, is a more conventional house song, with a lovely three chord progression and vocal samples that have come to be recognised as Moodymann’s signature sound.
Perhaps the most powerful and thought provoking song on the album comes in the form of ‘On the Run’, the final track on the A side. A phone message is played at the start, from an uncle (rumoured to be Moodymann’s uncle), proclaiming numerous sentiments about prison , life outside of prison, and doing what he needed to do to survive. The voice sounds sad, lamenting about his current situation, yet in many ways reinforcing that persons need to survive the only way he can. As the conversation progresses, a guitar riffs joins in, moving in and around his words, highlighting the man’s statements and words to staggering heights. Underneath, as the conversation comes to an end, drums and keys kick in, creating a sense of urgency, a sense of a journey, and a realisation of actions to be taken and decisions to be made. The musicality of this tune is simple, yet bold and driving, and given the conversation at the start of the tune, Moodymann creates a powerful sense of foresight, a sense of things to come. This is perhaps the stand out track on the album.
Side B sees a return to sweet house music, with ‘M.E.A.N.D.N.J.B’ and the title track ‘Mahogany Brown’ displaying Moodymann at the peak of his powers. Displaying many disco edit techniques touched on today by Nyra, H.A.N.D.S and other disco diggers, the tracks flow like water, with the saxophone on ‘M.E.A.N’ a essential feature of Moodymann’s work. The title track starts off slow burning, with the light drums moving in and around, other elements quietly grooving in the background. Moodymann here decides to take the listener on more of a sonic journey than a narrative driven one, before bringing all the elements together into a sublime grooving house track. The guitar riff works along side the drums, bringing the song continually forward, with the drums brought in and out to create audio interest. As mentioned in a recent Resident Advisor video, Moodymann’s primary tool in creating music is the MPC. This tool is fully on display here, a producer in control, creating a house tune dripping in feeling, groove and melody.
‘Me and my people’s eyes’ contains vocals from Lord Imran Ahmed, along with a killer bass line that drifts in and around the beat effortlessly. Percussion builds perfectly on this record, creating another quintessential Moodymann house jam. This tune replicates the feel of ‘on the run’, with the vocals creating a scene and a context to the music. An interlude of vocal snippets descends into ‘Stoneodenjoe’, probably the most straight up house track on the album, with the drums blending again in and around the chords and vocal sample, a repeated ‘oh baby’ (an essential 90s house feature). ‘Joy PT III’ completes side C, with Taj on vocal duties, and is a feel good downtempo house track, with a deep series of bass chords contrasting well with the overlying melodic chords and the vocals. It is the second instalment in the ‘Joy’ series, that appeared on a 1997 ep of the same name, and in typical Moodymann style not having a pt I. It provides a fitting penultimate boundary for the final track, ‘Black Sunday’. A gospel sampled style house tune, with synth lines working alongside to create the final instalment on an album overflowing with soul, rhythm and feeling. Before descending into a cacophony of screaming, that could be anyone’s guess as to where that was sampled from. And maybe this is what is left up to be determined: a mystery, that just adds to the intrigue.
In essence, ‘Mahogany Brown’ feels like a journey, a story. A narrative intersects the music at the correct times, providing a framework for the music to speak volumes to the listener. This allows for the more house orientated tracks to work alongside spoken word and samples to create ebbs and flows that bridge tunes to tunes. It is perhaps this wonderful series of transitions that make the album such a joy to listen to as a finished article, a profound experience from start to finish.
The album displays numerous instances of Moodymann’s signature sounds, being house music that relates and connects to the listener through its contextual qualities and its deep grooving musical elements. Moments of realisation and hope permeate through, along with homages to Detroit and the influences that inspire the man himself. This truly is a brilliant example of almost conscious house music, a movement inspired by artists such as Larry Heard, where house music questions and probes feelings and emotions within listeners. No matter the comparisons, Moodymann created a blueprint that will forever transcend musical barriers, and in true Detroit style, tells a story, conveys an emotion, conceives a context, that we can all get lost in.