DJ/Producer/Keyboardist Taylor McFerrin Hits On All Cylinders Via ‘Love’s Last Chance’ (ALBUM REVIEW))

The genre-hopping Taylor McFerrin keeps good company and is a quick study. Love’s Last Chance, his second full-length and first since his 2014 debut Early Riser, is the first with his own voice on it as his previous was peppered with guest vocalists. Not only does he do all the vocals, excepting Anna Wise accompanying him on “Memory Digital,” but handles three tunes by himself instrumentally while doing all the engineering and production for the entire album. In fact, there are only five other musicians spread across the ten tracks, no more than three on any one track. This is a solo effort in the true sense of the word.

McFerrin played synths and beats on Robert Glasper’s supergroup album, reviewed on these pages, R+R=NOW, Alongside Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Derrick Hodge, Justin Tyson, and Terrace Martin. This changed McFerrin’s perfectionist approach, which can lead to procrastination. McFerrin says, “The whole album was recorded in five days. It was about capturing the feeling of the moment, and there was so much freedom and excitement in that.” Like his well-heralded father and musician sister, McFerrin decided to embrace spontaneity and treat this project as a snapshot in time, an aural portrait of this place in his life. The title owes to life’s fleeting moments. It’s his realization that it’s now or given that he’s writing and singing his own lyrics for the first time. “Something deeper happens when you sing, something that lets listeners feel like they’re truly getting to know you. Singing brings me closer than ever to being able to share everything that’s going on inside of me,” he explained in a press release.

He begins with a one-minute instrumental piece playing piano and synths as well as a strings sample for “Her Entrance” before vocalizing on “All I See Is You” is a contemporary romantic R&B mode, not unlike the supergroup album referenced previously. Again he’s alone on piano and synths, adding drum programming. McFerrin is a master of beats, fusing funk, R&B and electronics to produce a sonic canvas that seemingly comes from several payers. He varies the approach only slightly for “Love and Distance,” layering in background vocals while playing percussion as Marcus Gilmore pounds the traps. McFerrin does it all himself on “Now That You Need Me,” the album’s first single. By this point, we fully realize he has one of those smooth, crooning voices ideal for this kind of romantic fare.

This briefly segues into “Memory Digital” where he is paired vocally with Brooklyn-based, Grammy winner Anna Wise, who has worked with bands Sonnymoon, Built to Fade, and has collaborated with Kendrick Lamar. His vocals and soft and hushed, letting Wise carry the blissful melody. In an interview, McFerrin offered, “‘Memory Digital’ is about looking back on old relationships that didn’t work out, and now almost feel like they never happened because the memories are all based on social media photos. Something about the lack of anything physical to hang onto can make memories slip away. It’s becoming easier to ghost people these days because it’s almost like you are just logging out of the relationship, which in some ways it makes it easier to move on. Although for some people it makes it harder to let go…It usually depends on who ended it.” Later he adds, “When me and Anna Wise got together to write this song, I actually had a different instrumental ready for us to write to, but I played her this one and we wrote the initial hook in a few minutes. For me, when everything flows effortlessly, you know that it was meant to be. I really wanted a 2-step, Summer BBQ Anthem on this record, and if I ever hear this tune at a Block Party in Brooklyn, it will be all I need to feel like this album was the worth the wait.”

The dreamy “I Would Still” is a vocal/synth exercise for McFerrin with Gilmore on drums. The flute that begins “As You Are” comes courtesy of Elena Pinderhughes, a frequent collaborator with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. The drum intro is especially effective and bassist Jason Fraticelli also helps keep this short instrumental piece flowing, leading into the simmering, spacey groove of “I Can’t Give Your Time Back,” with Jeff Gitelman accompanying the leader on guitar and bass. Here, as on several tracks, McFerrin’s synths make it sound like a band much larger than just the two of them. With headphones, the various notes and chords just swirl and linger even after the cut ends. He closes on Rhodes and synths with one of the disc’s more melodic tracks, “So Cold in Summer,” buoyed by Gilmore’s drumming and Marlin Williams percolating electric guitar.

McFerrin convincingly proves he’s got a handle on contemporary R&B, the kind that’s being fused with jazz, hip-hop, and spoken word. Keep an eye on him. This is just the beginning.

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