REVIEW: Zo!’s “ManMade”

 photo Zo_cover_zps1e3c12b8.jpg He may not have been hanging out in Benzo’s during the making of his brand new album, but maybe Lorenzo Ferguson did give his tracks the car test throughout the recording, mixing, and mastering processes, for it has a vibe that would make these songs appropriate automobile listening. As Zo!, this musician/producer has released a number of projects on his own Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music label, before joining the Foreign Exchange family to get a chance to better share his love of music and Detroit upbringing.

ManMade (Verse 5ive/Foreign Exchange Music) is an album by someone who has a full understanding on the music, because he creates it from the ground up, not only as a musician and the producer, but he also plays the architect, designer, and conductor roles. The music here is heavily influenced by the sounds of the 1970’s and early to mid-1980’s, where the groove never ended and you knew that as one emotion faded, another was on the way in four seconds. To assist in vocalizing these compositions, Zo! brought in Phonte, Choklate, Anthony David, Sy Smith, Eric Robertson, 1-O.A.K., Carlitta Durand, Jeanne Jolly, and Carmen Rodgers and together they sing with the kind of voices that, as kids, we used to think was very motherly, fatherly, and auntly. I know that word doesn’t exist, but stay with me here. My point is that one can here a sense of community within the talent that has been assembled here, especially in tracks like “New In Town (Happy)” and the soothing “Show Me The Way”. Forget certain well known restaurants, because when you’re hearing Manmade, it’s family. Some of the songs are about the human condition and what they feel when it comes to love and romance, but in a track like “Out In The World”, it’s about keeping ones sanity and surviving in the world, whether it’s interaction with those around us or our own minds. This song also includes a nice rap verse from Phonte as he reads a letter from his brother while telling him in song how he’ll be around for support after he serves time in prison. “Count To Five” is one of those songs that you might expect to hear on a non-American album due to its song structure, but when you understand what’s going on, it leads to smiles. Plus, the nice interpolation by Phonte of a well known pinball-related song was perfect.

The album closes with an excellent slow jam, the 8-minute “Body Rock” featuring Sy Smith on vocals, where she shows how she is able to cuddle and cradle in a Chante Moore sense while creating a sense of seduction that helps to wrap up the experience of listening to ManMade, almost as if to say that the movement that this song will cause will lead to the creation of something man- and woman-made. For me, one of the song’s best tracks is “We Are On The Move”, an awesome disco funk track that may remind some of the vibe of The S.O.S. Band, Rick James, or Earth, Wind & Fire. Lyrically, “the move” could be anything from a couple making moves in their relationships, moves with one another (sexual or otherwise), or as a call for unity amongst those who are listening, wishing to dance the days and nights away as a means of strength, power, and simply living for the sake of living.

ManMade is meant to be listened to as a means to motivate people to simply live for the sake of living, which is what we’re guaranteed in this existence before the final guarantee of death comes our way. There was a quote on a Frankie Goes To Hollywood record made by Paul Rutherford which said “get off your ass and dance, we’re all going to the same grave.” Zo! has made the kind of album to enjoy from start to finish. Devour everything in small doses, stuff some of the niceness in your purse or pocket, but it’s an album that should be consumed in one sitting so one is able to get a full vision of what he sees through the sounds he has presented. A nice touch to this album is when the songs are in not only a 3/4 time signature, but even 5/4 and 7/4. He’s trying to challenge his fans, but once you’re locked under his control, you’ve essentially accepted what he is offering. In other words, put faith in Zo! and you will be rewarded when that appreciation is reciprocated ten-fold. You want soul music with actual musicality, and soul for that matter? It’s right here.

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