Solo Star, Solange's debut, lacked character. Not without a small clutch of memorable songs, much of it was nonetheless generic, containing little to separate it from the average R&B album fronted by an up-and-coming performer. Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, released five years later, is an entirely different affair -- fun, silly, slightly eccentric and, most importantly, fearless. Steeping an album in classic Motown and other R&B sounds of the late '60s and early '70s may not be the wildest maneuver in 2008, but throughout Sol-Angel, there is a kind of frolicsome adventurousness that is singular and undeniable, even when Solange lets loose with the sourness and addresses her false public image. In spots, it sags, and a couple tracks seem more like sketches than neatly bundled songs, yet it's one of the year's more entertaining and easily enjoyable R&B releases, fronted by someone who does not take herself all that seriously, someone who is slightly more concerned with raw emotion and clowning around than technical prowess and polished product. Solange hasn't merely taken Stevie Wonder and Minnie Riperton's advice to "Take a little trip through your mind and explore it." She has inhabited the space, converting into a combination rumpus room/whimsically ornamented meadow/unmanned Hitsville U.S.A., where she can be herself, pull all the strings, and make her album, whether that entails paying tribute to What's Going On-era Marvin Gaye ("Ode to Marvin"), ringing Lamont Dozier (the Mark Ronson-produced, Dap-Kings-sampling "6 O'Clock Blues"), rewriting Martha & the Vandellas' "Heatwave" ("I Decided"), or collaborating with Cee-Lo and Soulshock & Karlin on a laser-laced shaker that is nothing if not clever ("I'm a cool ol' Jane with a skip on my feet/I play as tough as nails with my heart on my sleeve/I'm nothing but a sandcastle/Don't blow me away"). Most surprisingly, she uses Boards of Canada's typically downcast and alluring "Slow This Bird Down" as a platform for a cathartic kiss-off, the album's true finale, one of three songs not soaked in bouncing pop-soul: "I'm not in denial/I'm not suicidal/Not an alcoholic/I'm not out here ho'in'/So just shut...the ***...up." Despite the mood and purpose, the song -- because of its invitingly insular nature -- is just as representative of the album as the ones that are dressed in handclaps and horns.
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