[Read our recent interview with Omar here.]
When the history of British soul music is written, a hefty chapter or two will need to be devoted to Omar (or Omar Lye-Fook MBE to give him his full honor-laden title) and the huge influence he has had on the UK and global soul community. Since the mid ‘80s, he has ploughed the sometimes lonely furrow of UK soul survivor, picking up admirers left, right and center.
And what a list of admirers it is: Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, and Common have all flown the flag for him Stateside, while here in the UK, Caron Wheeler (Soul II Soul), Carleen Anderson, and Kele Le Roc have all basked in the glow of his collaboration and experience. That he’s best known for his 1991 hit “There’s Nothing Like This” is hardly surprising given its sublimely delicious vibe, but throughout his discography there are gems aplenty (my personal favorite being his 2001 album Best By Far).
Which brings us to the latest chapter in his story—his eighth studio album Love In Beats, which arrives in stores worldwide on January 27th courtesy of Freestyle Records. Unsurprisingly (given that music seems to course through the family veins) Omar’s brother, Scratch Professer, lends a helping hand with production duties, whilst the guest list is constantly interesting: legendary Marvin Gaye collaborator Leon Ware, jazzman of the moment Robert Glasper, and the ever-seductive Floacist are the headliners. But other, less well-known names reveal the variety and depth of the material on offer here. Guadeloupe born singer Jean-Michele Rotin, grime star Ty, and Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade all contribute their unique talents to an album bristling with different flavors.
Thus has it ever been with Omar though: a touch of the Caribbean here, a soupcon of cinematic sweep there. Sure the funk and soul are inevitably there, but he always runs the gamut of influences in the heady brew he serves up. The album’s official press release heralds a more electronic approach, but that is somewhat of a red herring, for this album does what all of his albums do—envelop you in a delightfully warm embrace of funk and don’t let go. This is the antithesis of the glacial electro-soul that has become prevalent. Instead, Love In Beats is warm, welcoming, and lithe in its funkiness.
The first four tracks are built around some memorable basslines. “Vicky’s Tune” is sprinkled with stardust keys, Isaac Hayes’ flute, and ends with a jazz piano breakdown courtesy of Glasper. “Insatiable” has a rumbling, bass driven, mid-tempo groove. The bouncing bassline of “Gave My Heart” is wedded to some stirring strings, and “Feeds My Mind” has a hip-hop beat for Floacist and Omar to weave their magic over.
From this point on though, nothing is straightforward. Be it the stripped back guitar licks of “De Ja Vu” and the magnificent voice of Mayra Andrade, the jittery, shuffling, stuttering “This Way That Way,” the calypso inflected “I Want It To Be,” or the waltzing jazz steps and hurdy gurdy keys of “Doobie Doobie Doo,” what shines through is a restless desire to combine the most unlikely ingredients and then, somehow, make them work so well together. That Omar’s also able to then throw in an almost unbearably seductive piece of wriggling, sinuous sensuality in “Hold Me Closer” only confirms that this an artist at his very best. And that is as good as anyone out there.
Notable Tracks: “De Ja Vu” | “Doobie Doobie Doo” | “Hold Me Closer” | “This Way That Way”