Ronald Williams – Magnificent

 Ronald Williams – Magnificent

Ronald Williams – Magnificent – Album Review

Full disclosure…I’ve had a few conversations with Ronald Williams behind the scenes here…gotta say – I like this dude…the man has a good head on his shoulders and just like many of you independent musicians, bands, and artists out there – he’s got that sincere desire to communicate & be heard.  Seems open to feedback, definitely interested and invested in his career, and we even managed to have a lengthy discussion on the music of Prince – I mean, c’mon…that’s a rad kind of artist to run into right?

All that being said…as nice as anyone might ever be…y’all know I pull no punches…so let’s get into this!

As far as I understand it, Magnificent is Ronald’s second record – coming out soon, just around the corner here in 2018.  From what else I’ve gathered, he’s already got a third record ready to roll as well – so it’s pretty clear that the man is inspired to make some music right now, and you know I always dig finding an artist that’s locked into that creative mode like Williams is.  He’s gonna surprise you with the set-list of songs on Magnificent…especially if you’re listening to him for the first time like I was; this is a diverse & versatile set of tunes that reveal just how much he’s willing to try an entire range of ideas out and see what works, both for us as listeners and I’d assume himself as an artist as well.  And at the end of the day, there’s always varying degrees of success within such a widespread approach – but I also think that it’s undoubtedly admirable, respectable, and ultimately rewarding as an artist to really go after your ideas, whatever they may be, with the commitment that Ronald’s put in here.

But in terms of surprises, believe me, they start right away.  I honestly couldn’t tell you one way or the other in terms of what I was ‘expecting’ to find on this record…or if I even thought about that at all before just pushing play to see what I’d hear.  I can only imagine that if I did try to guess as to what Magnificent would have sounded like or what “Love Anthem” was going to be like beforehand, I’d probably have been wrong anyway.  I’ll say this…for as mild mannered as this song is, it’s actually quite a bold beginning to a record.  First of all, I love the orchestral opening in the intro before the main melody & song begin – that’s an immediately enticing beginning and sounds amazing right off the drop.  So…I mean, that’s likely already the first twist of many for listeners out there – you weren’t expecting Ronald to bring the entire orchestra up in here did ya?  Well…buckle-up homies…cause this man knows no limitations when it comes to the pursuit of his art – and that’s gonna be a major asset for this guy over time.  “Love Anthem” ends up going into what’s almost a sonnet-esque, classic approach in a style that’s older than old-school as the song begins to reveal itself just past the two-forty mark once the orchestra has faded out & thoroughly entertained us.  Stunning acoustic guitars are revealed, and immediately you can hear the dramatic shift that “Love Anthem” is going to take from its theatrical opening.  Ronald begins cautiously on this first cut…once he’s around the 3:45 mark you can hear he’s found the exact direction he wants to take this melody and every subsequent tone he sings has the strength it needs.  Moments like just past the five-minute mark not too far down the road, he’s making pure magic.  So, even though you can hear that confidence shifting somewhat from beginning to the end of “Love Anthem” – it’s a challenging melody to begin with, and he really does find a beautiful angle to approach this cut that really works.  What I really liked about this tale of discovering love and trying to obtain it is that you really don’t hear anything out there like this at all…it’s like a 17th century love-song of sorts – and that’s a BOLD move when it comes right down to it…to start a record like this is anything but typical.  But that should make you plenty curious about whatever else might come next…which would be the next surprise in the bag of tricks that Ronald Williams reaches into on this record.  To me, “Love Anthem” becomes infinitely more cool the more you understand Magnificent and realize just how much uniqueness this opening brings to the experience.

Because in what’s really the most ultimate twist on a first impression, Ronald pretty much reboots your expectations in every way on the record’s title-track.  If you weren’t familiar with his music and this was your first time listening…and you hear the gentle & delicate approach to “Love Anthem” that he takes – you’re just straight-up not expecting the man to come out rappin’ HOT BARS on “Magnificent.”  Unless you’ve got yourself a working crystal-ball and can somehow see the future, that first major switch in styles of music & sound makes an enormous impact…and arguably puts Ronald’s music into much more accessible terrain.  I think “Love Anthem” has a real stunning level of captivating sound when it comes right down to it – some of that is the way he’s written & performed the melody, some of that is also due to the fact that it’s such a different sound from what’s out there right now.  “Magnificent” drifts closer to the mainstream vibes for sure with its ultra-flashy sound & wild hooks…and I’d imagine we all hear the sheer amount of audio-entertainment he’s capable of on this cut without question.  Again, that’s part of why “Love Anthem” is such a bold tune to put up front on the album…because that’s the initial impression that some people are gonna take in and immediately judge – and ultimately, that’s more than fine…in many ways, you should & hopefully you find good favor in the artistic merits it has & stick with it…but due to its delicate nature, there will be listeners out there that’ll wonder if the energy is going to come up from there.  “Magnificent” responds to that brilliantly – and as long as the people end up taking that next fifteen seconds or so to hear the switch in sound that this record immediately makes, they’ll get a much better sense of what they’re in store for.  Ultimately, that includes versatility throughout Williams’ record and the full-scope of your impression certainly SHOULD include “Love Anthem” in that as well – but you’ll easily notice the degree of accessibility comes way up here on “Magnificent.”  The music is catchy, the hooks are strong, the verses & bars are absolutely off the charts cool.  Displaying his versatility right away on his new album, Ronald flips between rapping & singing throughout his title-track and turns the heat & energy way up with this performance; I’d probably give the edge to the rap if I had to choose – I think the tone of his voice is killer and he nails each & every syllable with precision & focus.  As far as the singing goes, he’s almost got an MJ thing goin’ on here, which I think many people will dig.  You can tell it’s taking all the breath he’s got & power to belt these notes out…and he walks a real fine line between the sound he’s looking for and falling right off that cliff – but as far as I can hear, he’s managed to stay on the right side of the fence throughout “Magnificent.”  Lengthy tune, but packed with entertainment & a diverse flow, so it actually ends up speeding right by.

That 80’s influence comes shining through on “Feels Good” – which, as its title implies, is full of uplifting vibes.  Designed for good times, the bright synth melody & guitar lick combo is a classic combination that people are definitely comfortable with and the energy overall on this track is fantastically vibrant to listen to.  Dig that Ronald’s even made time for instrumentation on this record and let moments like the guitar solo on this song have its well-deserved time in the spotlight.  Vocally, “Feels Good” is a bit uneven and likely needs another run or two through the booth from both Ronald & his featured guest – but they also share in some really exciting and excellent moments as well.  As an idea, “Feels Good” definitely works and more time on this cut would be time well spent…it’s not far off the mark, but there are noticeable spots where the tone slips away from each of the vocalists – something they both prove on this track through the parts they’re nailing that it would be an easy fix for them.  Particularly, right around that first moment of their interaction together around the minute-ten mark, you can hear that initial trepidation in his guest star and how it ends up affecting Ronald’s vocals in that spot as well.  Next time you hear her around thirty-seconds later, she’s right on the money and sounds excellent…then a slight wander from the energy before she really amps it up for the strong hooks you’ll find in the chorus.  So…all-in-all…”Feels Good” is definitely a cut that has potential to appeal to a large audience for sure…might just need a bit of a remix or another couple shots in the studio to round out the corners.

Again, impressive to hear just how much Ronald’s willing to try when it comes to the multiple different directions that he’ll take Magnificent.  “Be With Me” is a seriously interesting track to listen to & I’d love to know what other people end up thinking about this one.  He’s singing this track with some genuine character & energy, no question about that…tone-wise, I think some people will accept it & some won’t.  That being said, the hooks are without question memorable…so it’s one of those situations where regardless of what you think about it – you WILL be thinkin’ about it, you feel me?  I think the main verse from Ronald is smoother than smooth and I really like that…I dig the rap in this cut as well & the background vocals too…but when it came to the main hook…I gotta admit, I’m still unsure if this works or not!  Part of me is absolutely addicted to it…part of me wants to rebel against its natural pull…part of me really loves what Ronald’s doing with his vocals in that first verse so much that I wanted a whole bunch MORE of that…”Be With Me” is honestly one of the stranger listening experiences I’ve had this year when it comes to trying to reach an assessment of how I feel about a song.  I’ll put it this way…I think that the hooks are effective, I think the bright rhythm & vibes in this track will bring a smile to many faces and be turned-up on many stereo systems out there…it’s a highly expressive track with a sweet sentiment and that’s hard to resist as well.  It’s bizarre in many ways…but I think it does work.

That undeniable MJ influence comes roaring through his performance on “Groovin” – I can definitely see this one catching on for sure.  Ronald’s written an extremely challenging part to sing throughout this entire cut…in fact, the verse might even be tougher to keep up with that the high-energy chorus for him – but I felt like he really got to where he wanted to go throughout this entire cut & rose to the occasion.  The flow of the verse is wildly demanding – but that rhythm & groove in the vocal-flow is madly addictive and the star of the show really delivers on it.  As far as the chorus goes, that’s right out of the MJ playbook for sure, without a doubt, but LISTEN to how well Ronald makes that magic come to life!  He sounds fully in-charge on the chorus of “Groovin” and takes the potential of this track beyond expectations with the inspired performance he puts in.  I think the balance is excellent between the song’s main elements…I honestly don’t have a preference between the verse or chorus – I think they’re built of equal strengths, just different approaches, which actually makes for fantastic dimension & depth in the structure of this tune.  Plus DAT BASS yo…I mean…it’s called “Groovin” for a reason y’all…it’s because no one on earth can resist how P-H-A-T those synth bass-lines are.  Excellent atmospheric breakdown mid-tune as well, perfect punch back into the hooks…then into a whole bunch of wild instrumentation & a killer synth-solo…there’s a lot to love about this track and it invites you in to listen at every second through its mix of sparkling ideas and inspired performance from Ronald.

And here it is.  That moment Ronald.  The one you’ve been waiting for…

From our conversations behind the scenes about music and our discussions on art & The Purple One – I’d have to imagine he’s wondering about what our thoughts will be on “Stay” – which is definitely one of the most artistic endeavors you’ll find on this record full of diverse ideas.  This melodic ballad works with Ronald’s range and falsetto vocals hitting the highest points he’s got on his register impressively and a slow-tempo beat & string combo that puts the emotional thread into the music to link to the lyrics & vocals.  And I’ve gotta say…this is probably my favorite set of ideas on Magnificent…I think that it might need just a bit more sweetener in the production perhaps just to draw out that AMAZING melody he’s created for the chorus of this song, but other than that, I’m more than happy with this.  “Stay” is a genuine highlight and a real gem on this record…it’s got such a gentle sound but powerful presence – the kind of melody that heads straight for the soul.  Loving the saxophone parts & solo it has on “Stay” – musically I think this track starts off aces and remains aces the whole way through.  The Prince influence is definitely at work on this cut…and the spirit definitely takes hold of Ronald in the final minutes of this tune – but here’s where I’d advise some professional restraint.  I get what he’s going for – there are even a few spots in there where I felt like it was a great match…but in comparison to the immaculately gorgeous melody he’s created in the majority of this tune, I’m not entirely sure he needed to go over the top towards the end here when a tighter result might be just to keep it locked down as the exquisite & tender tune it could be.  Think of this cut like Ronald’s own “Purple Rain” of sorts – it’s epic like that for sure…and if you’re familiar with that tune (of course you are!), then you know those points where Prince gruffs it up with a bit of extra screamin’ & howlin’ – which for many, are the most magical moments in that performance and quite likely somewhat the conscious/unconscious influence on how Ronald approaches the end of “Stay.”  And like I said…I think he has his moments…some of it works really well and matches the style, some of it comes through a bit hot & intense for where you’ll want the vibe to remain.  That being said, it’s over seven minutes long, so believe me, no matter which part you love most, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to listen.  Without a doubt though, “Stay” is a huge highlight; it’s highly ambitious, extremely well written, and that chorus melody is certainly one of the best ideas I’ve heard in any song this year…love how that’s come out for Ronald & how stunning that part genuinely is.

I think he titled “Again” for the reason that he couldn’t have “Groovin” as a title twice on the same record!  I love the immediate pull the music of “Again” has…that’s instantly something you want to dive right into.  More of a modern-day era Usher-meets-MJ-like influence here as opposed to the more old-school part of Jackson’s catalog felt like influenced a few of the earlier tunes.  Tough tune overall…the lower-tones and melody of “Again” has Ronald digging into the lower parts of his own vocal register to find that match and there’s a couple moments along the way where the dissonance-factor will show up along the way in both the lead & background noticeably.  Definitely feeling the vibe in the music…I think the ideas themselves are solid…lyrics are tight & the flow is a great fit…but at this point on the record too where Ronald has proven himself to be more than capable of rounding out all those corners at his most focused, you’ll end up wanting a bit more of that applied here at times.  Right on the fence as to whether or not I’d have included “Again” within the Magnificent set…it’s definitely got the toughest spot on the record to fill right after “Stay” – and that might be a factor as well.  My instincts are telling me Ronald can get more out of himself on “Again” – I’m gonna stick with that assessment.  I agree with me.

If the Latin-influenced sound is your thang, “Bailando” will likely hit the mark for ya; it’s never been my thing.  I definitely don’t that against him or anyone else that digs it, that’s all on me…there’s the occasional sound in the genre that’s done it for me, but rarely.  “Bailando” features excellent musicianship in the guitars on this track, dual languages, plenty of character and personality in the music and on the mic…arguably a bit more of a party atmosphere than we’ve had on the record since “Groovin” earlier on in Magnificent’s lineup of tunes.  Ultimately “Bailando” is music about music and celebrates the fun & expression that comes along with it…which again, maybe that’s part of the reason I kept resisting here…I always lean towards heavier emotions like you’ll find on “Stay” and after the standards set from that song, it does noticeably become tougher to get into the moments afterwards in the following two tracks.  You can blame me all you like – but you have to recognize that a lot of this is on Ronald too…if he hadn’t gone and written such an incredible song like “Stay” than I’d never want so much more of that in everything else I ever listen to would I?  That’s on him.

Bringing back the wild personality and character to the mic, Ronald brings up the energy on “You Really Make Me Wanna (Turn Up)” featuring Matt.D to end the record with a highly entertaining track.  Ronald sounds somewhere in between MJ and Axl Rose on this cut…which…is…weird…but also really good?  Whether or not that’s the combo he’s intentionally going for, I have no idea.  I love the music of this final track and the electro-dynamics it flexes along the way with the surrounding elements in the mix…clever piano melody-lines too.  Matt.D has some excellent moments as well; the energy between them is a bit of a strange fit at first when you’ve got Matt.D is a near whisper in comparison to Ronald’s intensity in contrast, but I think he does a decent job in his main verse and towards the end of the song really started to come alive.  That extremely killer electro-hook in the music that comes roaring in, has gotta be one of the strongest moments I’ve heard on this record or in any song this year…it comes through with its dynamic punch at a couple significant times throughout “You Really Make Me Wanna (Turn Up) and makes an enormous impact on our enjoyment as listeners every time – SO GOOD!   Cleverly placed backing vocals, smooth harmonies, and a finale that maximizes the potential shared between them in a powerful ending that blazes with colorful sound and amped-up energy.  A great jam to end the record on a final highlight and solid collaboration…Magnificent has definitely proven to be an album full of diversity & versatility, ultimately showing the potential & skills from Ronald Williams in a fantastically artistic, vibrantly expressive, & positive light.

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