TRACK REVIEW: Stealth (ft. The Dap-Kings) - Black Heart

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Stealth (ft. The Dap-Kings)

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Black Heart

 

9.5/10

 

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The track, Black Heart, is available via:

https://open.spotify.com/track/5joZkgTCteYR5SWvSesUSQ?si=vTk4qxTlShOH0NVIn1PwrA

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

GENRES:

Soul/Funk/Jazz

RELEASE DATE:

15th February, 2019

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THIS time around...

I get to look at some new themes and subjects to bring into this review. I wanted to start by speaking about Stealth himself but, then, look at collaborations and how the best ones stand aside. I will then talk about genres like Funk, Blues and Jazz and how they are under-used in music; artists embarking on a new chapter and able to be flexible with their material; supporting other artists and how online success can aid and boost a career – I will then look at Stealth and where he might head this year. It has been a busy last few years for the artist. In 2015, Stealth started carving his path into music with the E.P., Intro (he produced other work before then but Intro was the greater realisation of his vision and talent). That initial cut was influenced by artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Hozier. I would not, as some have done, compare him with James Bay as that does him a disservice and I find Bay’s music incredibly boring and generic. The reason why his early work captivated was not because he was trying to be someone like James Bay; rather it was about the way he could project this powerful vocal and match things with edge and a forceful heartbeat. After the success of his early work, he started to turn heads and really got onto the live trail. People were talking about his shows in impassioned tones and he was receiving incredible reviews. There are artists today who have that deeper tone and style – such as Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and Hozier – but Stealth is a much more credible and talented artist. I often have a reason with people comparing newcomers to mainstream stars in order to give them some sort of credibility and boost. I find, if you listen to Stealth closely, he (I hope) is not trying to follow those artists and is looking at a much more original and less chart-based path. I think there is a lot of emphasis on support artists who are quite bland and uninteresting and, after Tom Walker won at the BRIT Awards recently, I do worry the industry is not looking hard enough for the next big thing.

Stealth has the ammunition and variety to stand well aside from the rather limited and mundane artists who seem to get a lot of focus. We often look at a slightly brooding male artist with a bit of cool and get this impression of who they should be and what they are like. Stealth is not someone who is going to fall into traps and you can lump in with the mainstream newcomers. Stealth is, as he will say, an insomniac with a flair for music. He takes inspiration from Jazz and Blues legends and funnels that influence into a big vocal performance and arresting style of music. There are dark tones in the music and a powerful voice but there is light and relief that can be found. I do feel there is a tendency, for modern artists, to go for something a bit personal and unsettled. I can understand why it is important to talk about your life but so much modern music pretty downbeat and lacks energy. I look for artists who can be personal and open but have a bit more power and flair. This is what you get with Stealth. He has built this promising career penning songs that have a real potency and power but there is a certain grace to be found. That might sound odd but I listen to his music and can hear so many different strands and colours. Rather than follow the lead of some of the less interesting artists currently playing, Stealth is a more eclectic, original and interesting artist. I do sometimes get worried regarding collaborations and, after some solo success, whether artists are making the right choice. I say this because I hear collaborations that are stuffed with people and things can get rather cluttered. There is a tendency for big artists to work with each other and it seldom leads to anything worthwhile or needed. It is a risk stepping alongside someone else but, when the chemistry is right, it sounds brilliant.

The reason I say this is because, on his Black Heart single, Stealth has united with The Dap-Kings. Many might associate The Dap-kings with the late Sharon Jones. Together, they created some of the finest music of the past few decades and we still mourn her loss. I think it is rare for popular artists to have a sort of backing band. It seems like a very odd thing where icons used to have extra vocalists and musicians. Smokey Robinson has his Miracles and, if you look back through music, there are examples of these big artists having this crew behind them. Now, we have Florence + the Machine but, like so many artists who hint at support, it is just a name and something intangible. I miss the days when you did get bigger vocal groups and the nature of being a solo artist was not literally performing on your own without any vocal support. Maybe it is me but a lot of the finer elements from music’s past have escaped. I do worry the solo realm is becoming less interesting and it is tougher for artists to make an impression. I am wandering off the course a bit because I wanted to talk about collaborations. Stealth has worked with other artists before but this is quite a big move. Performing with such a well-known and making it work is a hard thing to realise. Stealth has previously worked with Netsky and Metrik and this is very different for Stealth. I think this is the most appealing and striking collaboration from Stealth and it is great to see these two worlds come together. I hear a lot of collaborations in music and some of them work quite well and it is a good union. If the voices mesh well and you can get that rhythm clicking then it is great to hear. I feel so many of today’s collaborations are there to boost Spotify playlists and to stuff as many major artists together as possible. I cannot really think of a collaboration from the past few years that has truly struck my mind.

That might sound grim but, when it comes to Stealth and The Dap-Kings coming together, this is what I am talking about. They are a natural union and an interesting brew. Stealth has a more varied background regarding sounds and genres but you have the professionalism, history and assuredness of The Dap-Kings. It is hard to follow someone like Sharon Jones but Stealth is a different artist and someone who has his own voice. What we have is a great coming-together that has that distinct sound of The Dap-Kings with the powerful voice of Stealth. He recorded with them in New York and, in many ways, it must have been a dream come true. Even though Black Heart is not the most original song you’ll hear in terms of lyrical themes – the anticipation before a break-up – cliché is avoided with terrific vocal performances and great production. A lot of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ music was about heartache but I am finding so many artists talking about the same thing – maybe writing a song that is less about heartbreak and embraces happiness and something more joyous? That is a minor bug but it is no shock to hear an artist inspired by Jazz and Blues to open the heart and reveal a painful experience. The Dap-Kings worked with Amy Winehouse and Charles Bradley and have this experience working with these fantastic, if departed, artists. It can be hard making things click and having this sort of harmony. As I said, there have been some wasteful and average collaborations but it seems like Stealth and The Dap-Kings are in-step and perfect together. Let’s hope they work together again because their combined sounds are fantastic, rich and memorable. Black Heart is the sound of experienced artists aiming to create something wonderful and evocative and, for the most part, it is a big success. I wanted to move on and talk about genres that do not get enough exposure these days.

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There are great Funk, Jazz and Blues radio shows where we can find the best of the genres but, listening to modern music, how often do we hear this sort of music? I feel like there is a tendency to promote Pop and we only often hear Funk and Jazz in the context of big hits – integrated rather than fully standing out on their own. By that, I mean we do not have the same Funk and Jazz legends as we did and I think these genres still fight for recognition. I am especially interested in Funk and Soul and wonder why more artists do not perform in these genres. The funkiness and uplift you can get is exhilarating and the mainstream could do well to bring more Funk to the fore. It can be hard predicting what people want to hear but I do feel like there is too much of the same thing being produced and, when you hear the mainstream best, it all sort of blends into one. Maybe Jazz will take a while to bed into the public consciousness and it will struggle to grab everyone – it is still a type of music that many turn their noses up at. I love a good bit of Funk and Jazz blended together and feel it can really lift the senses! I wonder whether artists are ignoring these genres because they are not steeped in its history and unsure how to pull it off. The Dap-Kings and Sharon Jones amazed the world with their insatiable and gripping music and, as we lose icons like Jones and Charles Bradley, music is becoming weaker and less interesting. I am not certain whether Stealth will remain in this territory but it is a style of music he excels in. Do we follow playlists and what tastemakers say too much and neglect music? I feel we do not really go deep enough and brilliant genres are overlooked.

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Look through the back catalogue of Stealth and he has tackled many different styles and sounds. His potent and impactful voice is the common key but he is someone who is always experimenting and keen to try different things. I do hope we get to see a resurgence of Funk and Jazz because they are side-lined too much. We need to bring the fun and positivity back into music and, whilst Stealth’s latest single has some woes and pains, the general mood is more positive and fresh than you’d imagine. I often look at music for some sort of enrichment and lift and, largely, I am left disappointed. I do feel we are becoming more negative and less energised as people and music is reflecting that. We still have mainstream Pop and some sprite songs but I tend to find many of them lack soul and any sort of nuance. The reason why I want us to become more adventurous is because we can look back and see the artists who helped change music. How many people know about Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and their contemporaries? There is so much room to provide a modern interpretation of their music and add something thrilling to the mainstream. The core is so homogenised and is not stretching its imagination. I wonder why there is this sort of reluctance to revitalise genres fully and be more adventurous. I know there are artists who can get funky and utilise Jazz but it is a lot rarer than you’d think. Maybe Stealth will lead this charge and get other artists to follow his lead. I will move on but the most appealing songs I am discovering right now are those that break away from convention and have that beautiful, vintage edge. Listen to Stealth and The Dap-Kings getting together on Black Heart and you will definitely want more. Before I move onto the song itself, I shall talk a bit about Stealth and his rise to success.

He has been releasing music since about 2015 but I feel last year was when he really exploded and took a big step. The fact he has worked in different genres means his music is much broader and interesting. He has worked with Jamie Woon, Zella Day and Tigga Da Author during their U.K. tours and has performed overseas. Opportunities are coming and, the more he puts himself out there, the more accolades come his way. His music has been used on T.V. and he has done well on the iTunes charts. His songs have received support from the likes of BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6 (Music) and there is no stopping it. It is impressive when your music can reach a wide audience and make its way onto such broad stations. The flexibility he shows and the diverse nature of his music means he has this broad fanbase and popularity. Last year was a great one for him this year and, as I shall end on, it seems like this year could be bigger! I think many solo artists do get into a rut of performing on their own and do not really play alongside anyone else. They might be quite rigid regarding sounds and what they are speaking about and this can only lead to a slightly limited and predictable progression. If you have a sound that is solid and honed then that is fine but taking risks and being eclectic is a great thing. I love most types of music but I have found that there are few artists crossing genres and able to get their music to a range of demographics. Stealth is somebody who has always operated in a way that means his music gets out to the people and has no barriers. He is one of these rising artists that will keep on succeeding because he hooks up with other artists and writes songs that are genuinely interesting and new. I do wonder why more artists are not following his lead because, as he has shown, success can come your way and your music can get out to a huge amount of people. I am not one who features artists because of their streaming figures and all of that but, in the case of Stealth, you see the numbers and it is very impressive.

Black Heart begins with a strut and cool that is led by some funky-ass bass and great intention. I like how there is a bit of a fuzz and we get this very catchy and physical opening. Before a word comes in, we have this lovely introduction that adds its own weight and ground. I was excited to see where the composition led but, before I could get to that, Stealth came in and asked what is on the mind of the girl. This seems to be the beginning of the end for a relationship and one feels something has happened to cause this friction. Maybe things have run their course but this bond is going sour and the hero is asking for answers. You get a load of songs that talk about the same thing but very few have the blend of Funk background and quite testing, serious lyrics. It is a nice brew that works well and, with his voice firm and sensitive, Stealth lets his words out. With some cooing and backing from The Dap-Kings (and some incredible Jazz blasts) we have this song that rolls and strides with intention. Stealth, inspired by the composition and energy from The Dap-Kings, lets his voice strike and swagger. It is raw and exciting and definitely sucks you in. As things reach the end of the line and things are falling apart, the hero is seeing that black heart emerge and knows things are almost over. The background is great and we get nice horn blasts and rousing percussion. Vocal input is fairly sparse but adds a beautiful contrast to the deeper sound of Stealth. It is rare to hear a song that deals with a failing relationship have such energy and boldness. Even if the lyrics are tense and there is a bit of stress, you never sense that in the composition and performance. The chorus has this great mix of The Dap-Kings’ past work and Jazz-Rock bands like Steely Dan.

Our hero talks about a heart beating for someone new and one wonders whether it is him or the girl who is focusing on someone else. I get the impression his sweetheart has let him down but the hero is looking ahead. He wants to know why things have broken down but I get the sense this has been coming for some time and the break-up is no surprise. There is great catchiness and delight when you hear The Dap-Kings play and add to the mood. The darker words are elevated by this stunning and rousing coda. I love the composition and how it makes you feel. I do not hear many songs that incorporate horns and Jazz elements and, together with a Funk mandate, you get this deep and rousing song that brings a smile – even though the foreground is getting more tense and anxious. He compares himself to a cannibal being eaten alive and the girl being like this dirty waterfall. At one point, Stealth delivers a line and there is this call-and-response aspect. It is great to hear the song take this turn and it provides Black Heart with this extra level. At one point, when the music rises and the vocal gets bigger – as Stealth searches for clarity and tries to make sense of things – we get a glimpse of Stevie Wonder in the mix! The sheer force of Black Heart is impressive and I love how much is packed in. Our man is asking what has happened and he can see this once-loving heart is empty. Even if the central story and theme is nothing new, the images and wordplay gives new light to the trodden path of heartbreak and deceit. The song builds and then goes low to allow the bass to come in; the brass brings it back up and the percussion gives the songs its spine and discipline. The merry and dizzy blend gets into the head and you do wonder how the relationship worked out. It seems like this girl is a poisoned chalice and it would be foolish to go back to her. She seems to have her eye on someone else and Stealth was not given much of a chance. It might have been scary joining with The Dap-Kings and being able to make it work but the collaboration is wonderful. Stealth’s strong voice is given new potential and life by the band and they bring a lot of party and hope to a song that has a dark heart. It is amazing, in 2019, there are not more songs like Black Heart because the effect and reaction is amazing – after one listen you are stunned and want to go back! I shall end things here but urge everyone to check out the song and let it put you in a better mood. I hope things worked out with Stealth in the end but, having listened to a seriously funky song, you sort of know he will move on and find some peace.

He has already won hearts and minds and had his music shared on some of this country’s biggest radio stations. Having supported artists like Nothing But Thieves and Jamie Woon, that gig experience and new world has bled into his music. Stealth takes a little bit of everything and stirs it into this boiling pot. Stealth has a brand-new E.P. out later this year and big gigs. He is headed to SXSW and will play Parker Jazz Club, in Austin, on 14th March. It is an exciting year for Stealth and one where he can win the American audience. Black Heart is the latest step from him and one that will get him into new markets. Stealth is always looking to broaden his appeal and he has previously worked with Dance and Electronic names. Now, in Funk and Jazz, he can spike new minds and it makes for an interesting E.P. I wonder whether it will be this free-for-all in terms of sounds or whether there will be more focus. I welcome the possibility of having this work that ventures into different genres and takes in a lot. There is not enough of this happening in modern music and it needs to change. I feel like Stealth can go even further and add even more spark into the music. Black Heart has some wistfulness alongside the energy but I can detect an artist who has so much energy that is waiting to come out. Many have compared his voice to artists like Hozier but I think we need to start thinking about Stealth in more promising and better terms. Not that there is much wrong with the likes of Hozier and James Bay but, to me, they are quite boring and write songs that seem to be aimed at those who do not like to be challenged and want something really simple.

Stealth’s deeper voice might put one in mind of those acts but his music is much more interesting and he has greater promise. It is a hard time for male solo artists: female lone stars are providing more stunning music and they have an edge right now. The best male artists are those who break away from the mainstream sound and provide something much fresher and unique. Even though Stealth’s lyrical themes do not stray too far from love and relationships, he has a lot in his locker and should not be easily predicted. I will wrap things up now but keep an eye on the social media feeds of Stealth and see what he has coming up. I love the fact he has worked with The Dap-Kings and hope it is not this one-off thing. They fuse beautifully and there is a real sense of mutual respect there. Looking forward, there is a busy gig schedule for Stealth and he will be preparing for his E.P. later in the year. If you are a bit wary of embracing a song that seems a bit unusual and not like anything out there – as Black Heart has its own beat – then give it some time and let it do its work. If all collaborations can be this accomplished and fine then I will drop my reservations and welcome them in. These artists who cram loads of random names together and produce something pretty weak will do well to listen to Black Heart how how a collaboration should sound! Keep your eyes on Stealth as he is someone who will go a long way and continues to evolve. If people can shake off the easy comparisons – he might like them but I definitely do not – then he can genuinely appeal to a much broader sect and gain greater critical acclaim than those names. There is no denying his talent and the fact he is an artist with great potential. It is still fairly early on in his career but there are clear signs Stealth is about to drop a bomb. His beginnings were impressive and promising but, the more he produces, the more I feel the young man...

CAN go a very long way.

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