CD Review: Lenny Kravitz, Black and White America

Since the release of his 1989 debut album Let Love Rule, Lenny Kravitz has been bombarded with equal amounts of affection and animosity. The biracial, peace-loving, idealistic, sex god neo-hippie has attracted almost as many followers as he has detractors. The listeners who were awed by Lenny's messages of love and his tasty guitar hooks stood as the polar opposites of the naysayers who accused Kravitz of perfecting his signature rip-off act while riding the coattails of the giants he was struggling to emulate.

And, as far as opinions go, not a whole lot has changed. As Lenny's popularity has ebbed and flowed over the last two decades or so, his critics have remained rigid and forthright in their dismissal of his work... which is unfortunate, because the man is more than capable of combining his own personality, style and essence and channeling them into a damn fine album. His newest offering, Black and White America is that album. An album that collects the very best elements that make up the Lenny Kravitz mystique more effectively and consistently than most of his previous releases have.

Opening the album with its fine title track, Kravitz wastes no time in conveying his message of hope. Rather than lambasting society for all its ills and condemning all those who don't think the way he does, Lenny opts to celebrate in the strides we've made over time regarding racial equality. Backed by an infectious, funky groove laden with horns, strings and percussion, Lenny gleefully sings, "The future looks as though it has come around / And maybe we have finally found our common ground / We're the children of one father / If you're looking back don't bother / W're black and white America." While the sentiment may ring trite or hackneyed with some, it's a hell of a bold statement, especially coming from the child of mixed-race parents who were more than likely met with plenty of criticism and disdain in the racially-charged early 1960's.

From there, Lenny launches into "Come On Get It," a fierce, sexy rocker that sounds like Rick James fronting Led Zeppelin. His sex appeal is in no shortage here as his impassioned growls and grunts soar over revved up, nasty guitar riffs.

The other 14 cuts on this double album range in styles and genres, too. There's a touch of New Wave ("Rock Star City Life"), dancehall reggae ("Boongie Drop", featuring a cameo by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z), disco ("Sunflower") and plaintive piano ballads ("Dream").

Lenny Kravitz has obviously never been one to shy away from his influences. His music has always contained blatant nods to Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, Led Zeppelin and Sly Stone. And so what? If a contemporary artist chooses to borrow, I'd much rather they draw from the wells of these stalwarts than to be yet another limp, lifeless Radiohead sound-alike. Lenny has stood proudly for more than 20 years paying homage to the great music he grew up listening to and, from a personal standpoint, I welcome those types of tributes.

Towards the end of the record, Lenny screams "What do you want from me? / You want my love? / You want my blood?"; questions that seem aimed at those who have judged him the harshest throughout his career. The irony is on that cut, and certainly throughout the rest of this fine record, Kravitz seems totally unfazed by his critics and sounds downright elated, which hasn't been the case on his last few releases.

And while Black and White America may not persuade nonbelievers to hop aboard the Lenny Kravitz caravan of love, peace and hope, it certainly deserves to be heard through open ears and with open minds — and at least a handful of the tracks sound like bonafide radio hits.

Throughout years of searching, Lenny Kravitz has found himself and his true identity on his newest release and he seems to have comfortably eased into his role of modern day, soulful, flower child. Welcome back, Lenny. We've missed you ... and we need your unabashed messages of hope and positivity now more than ever.

4 and 1/2 stars

About The Author

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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