The Foreign Exchange: Love In Flying Colors
+FE Music

As evidenced by its Love In Flying Colors title, the fourth studio album from The Foreign Exchange wears its heart on its sleeve. But such a determination would be possible even had the album been given the most generic of titles, as its music all by itself oozes unbridled joy. Lyrically, it also doesn't surprise that the collection's primary concerns revolve around love, in particular the joy of getting it and the challenge of holding on to it (consider the following from the opener “If I Knew Then” as representative of the tone: “Feels so good, love's flying high / You're beside me”), even if other related issues are also addressed (e.g., loneliness in “Listen To The Rain”). Though the album is primarily the brainchild of vocalist Phonte and multi-instrumentalist Nicolay, other +FE Music associates such as keyboardist Zo!, guitarist Chris Boerner, and singers Jeanne Jolly and Gwen Bunn make key contributions to the luscious ten-song set.

The album's effervescent character is made clear the moment the radiant voice of Carmen Rodgers, buoyed by Nicolay's breezy synth-heavy backing, introduces the funky opener “If I Knew Then.” Even better is the sparkling “Better,” whose infectious, bass-heavy groove receives a major boost from Shana Tucker's smooth vocal presence. Musically, the songs are a soulful lot that play like fresh updates on classic R&B, though Phonte and Nicolay also make room for the strings-laden folk ballad “Listen to the Rain” and slyly slip a drum'n'bass groove into “Call It Home.” Interestingly, the album sees the group downplaying rap and hip-hop (though a few MC turns are included) to focus instead on funk, soul, and R&B. In fact, the album's strongest cuts are its funkier ones: the sensuous bounce of “Right After Midnight,” especially with Sy Smith along for the ride, is well-nigh irresistible, as is “The Moment,” a swinging body-mover goosed by slinky bass lines.

Phonte is in fine voice throughout the forty-five-minute set, but it would have been nice had the other singers been featured to a greater degree. Jeanne Jolly gets a well-deserved spotlight on the blissful outro “When I Feel Love” (as do Gwen Bunn and Carlitta Durand during “Can't Turn Around” and “Dreams Are Made For Two,” respectively), but often the female vocalists are limited to providing luscious background vocals more than lead turns. That caveat aside, Love In Flying Colors holds up as another solid and thoroughly enjoyable outing from the group; those acquainted with the group's previous output (2004's Connected, 2008's Leave It All Behind, 2010's Authenticity) will also note how much its music has matured into a style noteworthy for being so cohesive and fully integrated. And, finally, this latest collection from the community-minded collective is all the more welcome when one considers how few other groups currently operate within The Foreign Exchange's chosen stylistic zone.

November 2013