Dudley Perkins, A Lil’ Light (2003)
On A Lil’ Light, Los Angeles-based vocalist Declaime takes a holiday from his day job as solo MC (illmindmuzik EP, Andsoitisaid) to harmonize over an album of Madlib’s beats. True, it’s something of a conceit, an hour’s length exploration of the happy accident that was “Flowers,” a seven-inch single from last year on which Dudley Perkins rhapsodized over the wonders of good herb. Far from a natural singer, Perkins croaks out words with melismatic fervor; even he admits on the yearning “Falling” that “I hang on the edge of this universe, singing off-key, speaking too loud, embracing myself.” Despite his obvious limitations as a singer, he’s capable of unorthodox, jazz-like improvisations. The most successful tracks have no lyrics or narrative, just phrases like “It’s you who gave me life” (“Momma”) or “Do you know the way to my home/I’m lost and I’m all alone” (“Solitude”) that he croons, testing the words in his mouth before voicing them with surprisingly emotional sincerity. Madlib, who has rediscovered the psychedelic soul-jazz haze that fueled his memorable Quasimoto recordings after the mixed success of his Yesterday’s New Quintet projects, helps Perkins’ efforts tremendously. One track, “Money,” sounds like a half-tempo, opiate version of DJ Premier’s beat for “Dwyck”; another, “Forevaendless,” loops a late-70s disco track for a short, memorable homage to space, the final frontier. In fact, A Lil’ Light is infused with spirituality; it’s the one quality that separates Perkins from his closest comparison, the sloppily decadent Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Both “Solitude” and “Falling” make frequent mention to God, while another song is tellingly titled “Lord’s Prayer.” Then a final, hidden track finds him singing Earth, Wind and Fire’s cover of Pete Seeger’s wartime lament, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” an obvious nod to America’s ever-widening war on terrorism. It’s a touching gesture made slightly embarrassing by his awkward attempt to replicate Philip Bailey’s cadences. It feels akin to getting a hug from your uncle that lasts two minutes too long. Stones Throw.