Ronald Williams – Funk Avenue
Ronald Williams – Funk Avenue – Album Review
Believe it or not, this is actually the third review on the music of Ronald Williams within four months! Safe to say that things are heating up creatively over on his end of the screen & studio boards from the sound of everything that’s been coming our way; but as I noted last time around in the pre-release review for this particular record, it’s the rapid rate of evolution in an artist embracing their moment in time that continually makes an impression on our speakers. So many things can change in such a short amount of time if you’re truly dedicated to the art and invested in everything from performance to production…if the genuine WANT and DESIRE to do this music thang is there, believe me, you’ll make moves like Ronald is making…we’ll hear that development as listeners.
Some of those changes you can visually see as well. For instance, only less than two months ago, Funk Avenue was actually going to be called SuperNova – a last minute title-switch occurred, which of course somewhat dictates that the whole sound or theme likely shifted along with it. To give you more evidence of that, you can have a read of the original review on the songs that were intended for SuperNova by clicking here – and notice there as well, that only two months ago, four of these tracks were ready to be part of the lineup and just “SuperNova” and “Out My Head” ended up making the cut for what’s now known as Funk Avenue. If you read that previous review, you’ll see that it wasn’t a matter of the songs that didn’t make it being bad ones whatsoever – he’s just made smart choices in self-editing/professional-restraint and made sure this finalized lineup of songs for Funk Avenue had that cohesion to the vision he was looking at for his music – and that’s undeniably another sign of growth & refinement as an artist. Go ahead and TRY to tell me that as musicians you can’t relate to the battle between having created something and sometimes having to leave it behind on the cutting room floor – it can literally be one of the HARDEST things that any creative mind has to come to grips with. But in the end, when you find that objective gear and can stand back from your own material to measure its impact from a different perspective, whether it’s come from outside opinions or your own gut instinct, it doesn’t matter – if you can pull that off eventually, believe me, your music WILL be stronger as a result.
If you had a chance to listen to the latest episode of the SBS Podcast, you’ll have had the opportunity to hear some of this evolution in action via the title-track, “Funk Avenue,” which we debuted on the show from his upcoming 2019 album. So first off – the title switch…do I get it? Yes. I think there’s an argument to be made that this might very well be the best song you’ll find in the Ronald Williams catalog in fact…which, while there can be some risk in starting out a record with such a decisively single-worthy tune that might be considered your best of all-time, you really can’t deny the impression such a track would make as well. Drawing from his influence of Prince without question, “Funk Avenue” is a masterclass on everything going RIGHT; from the horns to the funk guitar, slick & rubbery bass-lines, crisp beat – and absolutely straight-up WILD vocals, Ronald is fully engaged in every second of this song and really letting the performer in him venture confidently into the spotlight like we’ve never heard him before. I mean…this is what the people call straight FIRE y’all – the man is sounding flashy, charismatic, and completely in control of every move he makes on “Funk Avenue.” Bright synth sounds blaring, bass-lines that can’t be denied, that sweetness of the funk-style guitars chiming in at all the right moments – from breakdown to bring-back, this first cut has got ALL your needs covered. Honestly, I don’t know WHO out there could be capable of resisting this charm & constant surge of energy you’ll find flowing through this title-track – I think resistance is completely futile here and would definitely make me question your own judgment. “Funk Avenue” is damn near the jam of the century – it’s 100% killer.
I still think “SuperNova” is a seriously strong cut…and ultimately, I wouldn’t have had an issue with it staying the title of this album, but I do understand why he’s made that move towards Funk Avenue instead…it might be the first song on the record, but it’s undeniably the centerpiece. No issues with “SuperNova” at all though…I think it remains an impressively strong tune that holds up on repeat listens, working subtle-hooks that are fully engaging…it’s sound so smooth that it’ll slide easily right into your ears. Ronald continues to display insightful range as a performer and what he’ll add into his material – as chill as much of “SuperNova” is for the most part, he’ll liven it up even more with background vocals and smart vocalizations outside of the main verse/chorus of this tune…and the dude is crushin’ it! The hooks on these first two cuts are completely exceptional in every way – so remarkably accessible and perfectly performed from the music to the microphone; Ronald’s got two amazing tracks starting out Funk Avenue – and it’s the combination of both that give even more insight into his versatility as an artist with the direction of his sound. Both “SuperNova” and “Funk Avenue” make a huge impression, but in their own unique way…they both draw on the Funk for sure, but different aspects of its style.
That giant synth sound that dominates the low-end groove of “Out My Head” is still a massive part of what makes this track stand out in all the right ways. The only other tune that made the record along with “SuperNova” from the original set we reviewed in advance of this record, I think Ronald’s made another smart choice on bringing this cut to the finalized lineup. Love the piano solo in the breakdown, dig the incredible amount of personality that he’s got on this song – and much like my comments on the last tune, no matter how smooth & chill things might seem on the surface for the bulk of the rhythm & groove, LISTEN for Ronald to confidently surge in the background layers and supporting vocalizations. Dude really shines on these first three cuts from Funk Avenue and there’s no doubt that he’s started off his 2019 with extremely huge steps forward in his art & music – hell, in his own style, abilities, and talent as well…it’s impossible not to hear that Ronald is really making incredible strides towards the top of the charts and playlists out there with what he’s creating now. Compared to what we’d heard only a short time ago on his album Magnificent in August of this same year – honestly, it’s like night & day; he showed us the spark back then, but now you can hear that inspiration has turned it into a full-on blaze.
SO FAR THOUGH…he’s had the advantage of me already knowing two out of the first three songs…Ronald already knows my thoughts on these cuts from having seen the past review. And then like, with “Funk Avenue” rounding out that first impression of how this album begins with a song that’s virtually guaranteed to be universally LOVED from coast to coast? Please. Dude’s knocking it out of the park so far – but it’s all new for me from here on in. There are six more tunes in the mix on Funk Avenue that I’ve only heard now myself…so let’s find out how this story continues in this next chapter…
On a musical-level, I think everything we’ve heard so far has been played flawlessly, sounds spectacular, and has hooks coming at ya from all over…and yet here we are, “The Dance” comes out with perhaps what’s an even MORE accessible sound somehow! Absolutely stunning beat & vibe on this cut – and once again, Ronald’s found another incredible way to complement the sound with the way he chooses to sing this cut. You can hear what’s probably an 80’s influence on much of the synth-led instrumentation, but I think you’ll also notice that this is also a style of sound that’s continued to lead many lives in multiple genres from Indie to Electro over the decades to follow – and Ronald’s proving that it still fits perfectly with a soulful R&B combination as well. Bottom line is, what he’s doing on “The Dance” is still vibrantly fresh and extremely relevant for the right here & now of today; if you need further evidence of that, you’ll find this song shows up again at the end of the album in a separate remix. “The Dance” is exactly the kind of tune you want to set free in that respect – I’d be shopping this one around to club DJs across the globe if I was Ronald – there’s a ton to work with here, and each & every one of them know that the key to a killer remix is most often by borrowing from a song that is already strong enough to stand on its own in its original form. He’s groovin’ in mid-tempo like a serious pro here though…it’s often one of the hardest paces to leave a huge impression, but I felt like “The Dance” was another remarkable highlight in the evolution of Ronald’s music, writing, & performance.
FUN FACT – “Pigs” was actually sent in with the original songs that I reviewed for Ronald Williams back when the record was still called SuperNova. A last minute switch from “Pigs” to “Out My Head” ended up cutting it from that initial review and first glimpse into this new album – and that was a call made on his end, not mine. Put it to you this way…I MIGHT have just MAYBE listened to this cut a couple times back when I first had it…and while I could have protested the switch from what I certainly consider to be one of Ronald’s best yet again, ultimately I was so confident that “Pigs” would make the next record that I set my sights on enjoying the opportunity to hear more of the upcoming album by the substitution of “Out My Head” into that original review instead. Did I reach out behind the scenes and say ‘Yo Ronnie-boy, make sure “Pigs” ends up on the record because it’s flat-out amazing?’ No! I didn’t need to. Once you hear it for yourself, you’ll know that even the deaf can hear how awesome this track is; it’s not the kind of performance that comes with any debate, only complete agreement between ALL that yes indeed, Ronald is KILLIN’ IT on the m-i-c on “Pigs.” The first verse is AMAZING – listen to the brilliant way this guy breaks up the words into individual letters as he’s ripping it up on the mic; we haven’t really heard Ronald plunge into Rap on Funk Avenue yet…the impact of this switch here can’t be overstated – it’s MASSIVE. I mean for real – if you’re looking for HOT BARS – LISTEN to what this man brings out on “Pigs” – it’s the kind of rap so strong you’ll wonder how he’s been singing all this time! Mind you, if you go right back to any of the previous four cuts, you’ll feel the same way in reverse – but that’s a huge part of what makes Ronald consistently awesome to listen to…it’s that courage to commit to an idea and follow through, wherever it’ll take him – and we as listeners, never really know where that will be next. Surprises like “Pigs” are one of the best things you can hope to stumble upon on a record, full-stop. Not only is the flow insanely cool, stylistic, and delivered 100% on the money – but the words themselves, completely matter here. Another love song is never something I’m going to reject, I say fill the world full of’em when it comes right down to it – BUT – tracks like “Pigs” are a huge part of music for me in the sense that he’s gone right into the political realm here and made a ton of relevant comments on many of the injustices of our world today. He’s written an important song here…one that boldly uses the platform he has to speak on things we should ALL be aware of; he’s pissed off & rightly so, but he’s not wrong in what he’s saying as far as my ears can tell…I think this is seriously lyrically sound – and ultimately, hopefully it’s educational for a few people out there that need to hear this stuff.
For me, I think the biggest deviation from the Funk part of Funk Avenue starts to occur around “Love You More” and “Butterflies” coming back-to-back on this new record, where Ronald will slip into decidedly mellower sounds and slow it down for a couple tracks. There’s some risk in that for sure, just having those two moments attached to each other after pumping us all up so much throughout the first five cuts…you do feel that electrifying energy he’s established dialed back at this point of the album for sure. That being said, I still think he’s got a great tune on “Love You More” – but he’s probably closer to the Easy Listening genre here than the Funk side of himself…and that’s a seriously noticeable switch in the vibe of this record. It will help assist in setting up what’s even a more ambitious dive into the serene & gentle sound of “Butterflies” to follow…I suppose all I’m saying is that Ronald definitely exercises a different side of his creativity & sound on these two tender tunes. Again, definitely nothing wrong with that – and ultimately I think both these tunes speak strongly on behalf of his wide-range of style & sound as an artist, but it definitely is a noticeable venture into sweetened melody & graceful movements as opposed to the immediate hooks & pull you’ve found so far on Funk Avenue. They’re both quite beautifully written love-songs of their own unique design and I felt like Ronald sings them both really strongly with a different approach to each as well. “Love You More” is…maybe the more perplexing of the two on the record I’d imagine because it really is that first jump into the slow jams; but my gut tells me that he’s right on the edge of what might get him played in the Dentist’s office here – and he’ll have to make the choice as an artist if that’s where he’s cool with having his music end up. Maybe he is, who knows – there’s no shame in that game either, people might just be in for a different impression of what Ronald can do as an artist when it comes time to listen to the full album and find him a whole lot funkier than they originally would think if they somehow heard “Love You More” first. I’d probably give “Butterflies” the advantage of these two love-songs back-to-back…I think that the sound of the music is a bit more majestic, sweet, and unique…yet it’s still got a traditional or almost ceremonial sound to it, like you’d hear this at a wedding one day. Why I’d give it the edge over “Love You More” is that I think “Butterflies” is a lot more ambitious in how different it really is from much of what you’d hear out there. “Love You More” is a good tune for sure, but similar to a lot of what you might find in the Easy Listening section – a track like “Butterflies” is theatrical, relentlessly delicate, and ultimately captivating because of how well Ronald sings it & how unique it is from all the other music out there right now, even the other songs on this record. While it might come after the other slower tune on this album, make no mistake, they’re both completely different approaches to Ronald’s sweeter-side.
Ronald revives the energy perfectly with the chilled-out cool & walking synth bass-lines on “Be Alright” – drawing inspiration straight from the Golden Age of music here on this last original tune before the final cut & remix of “The Dance” to end the album. I’ll say this…Ronald’s taking something old and really making it new again here; I’ve got no problems at all with the ol’ walkin’ bass & Jerry Lee-esque piano combo…I think that at just the right time, it can make a huge impact through the comforting & familiar vibes that sound/style possesses, just like it does here on Funk Avenue. I mean…c’mon people, “Be Alright” is LOADED with vibrant sound…you’ll never escape that bass and that’s plenty cool with me, but NOTICE just how incredible the piano and guitars are on this cut as well…because that’s HOT STUFF right there is what that is. He’s made a decisive choice to go and kick it old-school on this cut and I think it definitely paid off for him – vocally, Ronald’s got some absolutely highlight moments as he mimics & emulates different styles and approaches the mic with such noticeably enticing sound at all times. He’s having a TON of genuine FUN on this song – and I felt like that really came through shining on “Be Alright” in a way that will radiantly translate that vibe to each of us listening. It’s got that kind of uplifting sound and dedication to style that can pretty much change the mood of anyone out there for the better, and you gotta dig a song like this that can completely rescue a day from souring on ya.
“The Dance” proves to be a bulletproof song once again in the final remixed version that appears at the end of Funk Avenue – it’s a great tune, all-around, straight-up. I usually advise against a song being on the same record twice, no matter how different it may be – but there are a few exceptions and this is one of them. I don’t feel like “The Dance” in either of its forms will ever wear out for people when listening to this record, so I’m all for it appearing again here at the end in “The Dance (Remix)” featuring Michael Jackson. Do I think it needed Michael? Not necessarily no lol…in fact, without the credit existing, I’d figure most people would assume they’re just hearing more Ronald going on, who can emulate a lot of what MJ does with the best of them out there. He’s got the King Of Pop way in the background…so it does perhaps add a bit, but it’s not the defining aspect of what makes this song as great as it is by any means. Facts are facts, Ronald’s just written a fantastic tune that’s gonna hold up big time, no matter what form it comes in…and like I was alluding to earlier, I’d be shopping this tune worldwide to the DJs out there looking for a remix project just to see where ELSE this song could go. Certainly no harm in testing the waters out there…I’d be willing to bet that Ronald might be quite pleasantly surprised by what might come back his way from other potential collaborators as well. It’s kind of similar to like…how Neon Radiation’s track “Underdog” inspired such an incredible set of five variations this year on their Remixes EP that it damn near cracked my top ten of 2018. I hear that same sweet potential for “The Dance” to go on and live many fantastic lives and inspiring new audible art for us all…time will tell if Ronald goes for that, but it’s definitely something I’d consider! As it stands now, in both its forms, I’m more than happy with what I’ve got already, so don’t get me wrong – I ain’t complainin’! “The Dance (Remix)” featuring Michael Jackson was a solid ending to what’s been a fantastic experience with the evolution of Ronald Williams…there’s no doubt this whole record is a cut above the last one and still manages to reveal just how much more he’s got in the tank at the same time. He’s firing at an all-star level here on Funk Avenue in multiple ways…and yet I still think the best years of Ronald Williams are on their way – the man’s got a bright future in music and he’s making all the right moves to get himself exactly where he wants to go with his style, songwriting, and career.
Be ready for a cruise down Funk Avenue in 2019! Find out more about Ronald Williams by checking out his jams at YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxyWxecgMSCG2jcJNA1Ku3g