Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

My Block/eOne Music EOM-CD-9439
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Life on Earth is Musiq Soulchild’s seventh solo album since he began recording, in 2000, and his first since leaving Atlantic for My Block Records, an indie run by producer Warryn Campbell. The singer, aka Taalib Johnson, mixes hip-hop, rhythm and blues, and jazz in a way that’s fresh and appealing to young listeners, while also accessible to old-school R&B fans like me. He writes songs that are melodically engaging, and even when he uses recent recording techniques, such as sampling and Auto-Tune, he doesn’t let them overwhelm or define his music.

Campbell handles the instruments and programming on Life on Earth, and cowrote most of the songs with Soulchild. Campbell favors thumping bass-drum lines that punch the songs along, but fills them with expansive chord progressions and luscious keyboards. The keyboards for guest Willie Hyn’s rap in “Wait a Minute” swirl around the kick drum to create a sweeping sound for Hyn to play off of. Soulchild’s intricate singing creates its own tapestry, and he sometimes adds a vocoder to help give the song momentum and humor.

Life on Earth

Musiq Soulchild’s inspiration is primarily 1970s soul, especially Stevie Wonder, but he also seems to have absorbed lessons from more recent artists, such as D’Angelo. “Heart Away” moves smoothly, with a solid snare-drum beat and Phillie Soul guitar lines, but Soulchild’s vocal harmonies and pure romanticism give the song its heart. The slow jam “Loving You” has a throbbing bass-drum line and a beautifully developed lead vocal supported by expansive vocal harmonies and subtle keyboard washes.

In the soul ballad “I Do,” Campbell’s electric piano underlines Soulchild’s ability to give a contemporary spin to older R&B traditions. Campbell has an ear for the right touch in a song, such as the trumpet solo at the close of “I Do” and the shimmering keyboards in “Walk Away.” His use of samples from other recordings, such as the drums from Edwin Birdsong’s “Rapper Dapper Snapper” in “Wait a Minute,” are smart and effective.

Even with Campbell’s contributions, it’s Musiq Soulchild’s album, and his singing is what makes Life on Earth so entrancing. Credited with “vocals and vocal production,” in many of these songs he uses multitracking to create complex vocal effects. Throughout “Heart Away” he inserts vocal interjections that function as additional percussion behind his lead, giving a more contemporary feel to a song rooted in the ’70s.

Life on Earth

Tracks such as “Loving You” and “Far Gone” are more straightforward, with few effects beyond multitracked harmony vocals, but even songs that include sampling and other processing retain a soulful, human touch. The big surprise is how sonically pleasing Life on Earth is. The elements that have gone into constructing each track are easy to hear, and the recording is spacious and balanced in a way that more current pop should aim for.

As a traditionalist, I’d like to hear Musiq Soulchild singing in front of a band -- as he did, for the most part, on his first album, Aijuswanaseing (2000). But with its consistently hummable songs and impassioned performances, Life on Earth is hard to resist.

. . . Joseph Taylor