Jamil Rashad, AKA Boulevards Invites Adrian Quesada, Nikki Lane To Guest On Soul Infused ‘Electric Cowboy: Born In Carolina Mud’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Jamil Rashad, who performs under the moniker Boulevards, follows his 2020 EP, Brother! with this full-length Electric Cowboy: Born in Carolina, which teems with a plethora of guests. This is his fourth album and was recorded in three cities – Chicago, Nashville, and Atlanta. The album, like the EP, was co-produced by Blake Rhein of Durand Jones & the Indications, and Colin Croom of Twin Peaks. Guests include Adrian Quesada of the Grammy-nominated neo-soul act Black Pumas (who also lent additional production), Nikki Lane, Macie Stewart of OHMME and backing vocals courtesy of Ashley Wilcoxson and Leisa Hans (who work frequently with Dan Auerbach at Easy Eye Sound and are featured on recent albums by Tony Joe White and Yola). As one might guess from reading those names the album is a mashup of soul, country, jazz, hip-hop, indie rock with a prevailing modern funk – for lack of a better term, call it psychedelic punk-funk. It’s highly danceable with unrelenting grooves at every juncture. 

Thematically though, many of the lyrics bely the joyous, driving beats. Rashad sings about an array of dark subjects ranging from drug abuse, racism, violence, systemic oppression, to professional and romantic self-sabotage. As depicted on the cover art, he is aboard a horse at full gallop, hat flying off as he escapes his many demons. For a restless artist who has spent time in New York and Los Angeles, his return to his North Carolina roots may be his way of gaining or regaining his footing.  

Two tracks have already drawn attention. Nikki Lane appears on “Better Off Dead,” written after coming off a week=long bender. The chorus ‘better off dead,’ than deal with all this pain’ is one many of us will relate to after a horrific hangover that has you saying, “I’m never going to drink again.” Lane’s smooth sultry voice soars above the gritty, reverberating bass lines, spiraling guitar, keys, and synths. It’s anything but painful and instead have you tapping your foot and bobbing your head.  The snappy “Where Is Da Luv?” features a host of voices – Steward, Wilcoxson, and Hans in breezy, easy-rolling R&B as opposed to the sharp, punchy, funk of the former.  

The album kicks off with the repetitive incessant groove of “Turn,” igniting the party vibe right away, the infectious groove bleeding right into “Together,” a modern does of head-nodding R&B. “How Do Ya Feel” brings filthy funk, with the swooshing effects and reggae-tinged beats over which several voices sing. One can’t help but sway. “Surprise’ is slower and seductive with whispering ‘yeahs,” hand claps, and group vocals, with yet another shake-your-booty groove. “Hooked” can relate to an obsession whether it be love or drugs, likely the latter in Rashard’s case but the music would evoke the former instead. 

“God Bless Ya (Be Thankful)” struts confidently while “Ain’t Right” plays with a maelstrom of whirling, dissonant sounds, held together by a driving beat as the lyrics are barely discernible above the din. “Modern Man” is more digestible but also suffers from too much in the mix. The sound lightens up for boom-a-chicka beats of “Time,” which uses reverb and reins in the psychedelia for great effect. The closer, “Problems” is a symmetric answer to the easy-rolling opener “Turn.”

Seldom will you hear a funkier, hip-shaking sound. There is a conundrum at hand at least for this writer.  How does such an urban-sounding album square with the title?  In any case, Boulevards puts a pep in your step. Keep this one handy for that first spring or summer barbecue but be sure that your guests control themselves.  Your gathering could easily get out of hand.

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