As we get older, we evolve. With that evolution, most of us change the way we listen to music. We complain more. Nothing sounds as good as the music of our formative years. We hear and understand that no idea is original, and everything has been done before and probably done better. But yet, as most of us slowly and reluctantly trudge towards middle age, we still listen to mainstream music, i.e. what the kids listen to. Some of it becomes a guilty pleasure or aural pornography. Some of it is pop song appreciation, and once in awhile the kids will actually get something right that we both like and appreciate without guilt. For me, I still keep up because I’m not ready for local jazz festivals and linen shirts yet.
Even with growth and changes, things stay the same. The essential themes are still lust, love, sex, and fun — even if people think more. And that is Zo!’s music. It is music for my generation. People who are evolving, but at the same time, still struggling with the same issues. Zo!’s music is not boring water down funk/soul available at jazz festivals, and it is not mind numbing pop and radio R&B that fits in with the thoughtless masses. Zo!’s music is an adult’s night out, thoughts and reflections on life, lust, love and relationships. And maybe most importantly, even if it is melodic and thoughtful, it retains a slight uneasiness and an urgency that a generation raised on hip-hop is used to.
ManMade‘s production emphasizes Zo!’s keyboard genius, but it is not overdone and not saccharine cheesy. The keys and melodies are sublime. The drums and bass lines gives the album a contemporary urban edge, that sets it a few decades ahead of Will Downing albums and “adult R&B.” The vocalists on ManMade are who’s who of underground soul music: Carmen Rodgers, Eric Roberson, Anthony David, and Zo!’s fellow Foreign Exchange crew, Sy Smith, Jeanne Jolly, and Phonte.
The album, which contains many stand out tracks, starts with the breezy bouncy, “The Train,” featuring Sy Smith. Then, Zo! goes retro on “Count to Five,” but with a modern perspective. “Making Time” featuring Phonte and Choklate is a subtle soulful mid-tempo number that takes you back to the late 1990s and early millennium when there was an abundance of creative R&B/soul music. The horns at the beginning and the guitar lines at the end are perfection. The lyrics deal with trying to find quality time with your significant other while dealing with life and work realities. Phonte, who co-wrote many songs on the album, examines societal and personal behavior in comparison to God’s image on “ManMade.” “Tell Me Something New,” is an honest, heartfelt and simple love song. Jeanne Jolly’s vocals fits in perfectly with the production. Eric Roberson sounds effortlessly smooth on “We Are On The Move,” a modern soul groove. “Show Me The Way” has a complexity that belies its 1990s radio R&B influence, and Carmen Rodgers and Anthony David sounds incredible together. “Body Rock,” the album ending prerequisite love jam, bubbles with personality.
Overall, Zo!’s ManMade is very mature, very smart, and very “grown folks,” but it is never boring or bland, and it is just as creative as anything in mainstream music. This is a great thing because even if we are “grown folks,” our needs and wants are still the same as they were when we were in our early twenties. And honestly, most of us do not want to really grow up yet, and probably never will.