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Review: Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s ‘Evening With Silk Sonic’ should be an album of the year contender

Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars of the duo Silk Sonic appear at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on March 14.  (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars of the duo Silk Sonic appear at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on March 14. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
By Jordan Tolley-Turner The Spokesman-Review

On Nov. 12, multiple Grammy Award winners Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak combined their talents as Silk Sonic for the nine-track album “An Evening With Silk Sonic,” a work with a nostalgic 1970s feel full of harmonies, strong vocals and diverse, incredibly smart production that constantly captivates.

The collaboration produced the first music Mars has released since 2019 while .Paak has been rising in the industry, including a Best Melodic Rap Performance Grammy win for his 2020 song “Lockdown.”

The return of Mars fully includes the charming, extravagant role he usually plays, in particular the Las Vegas theme that his album “24K Magic” embodies and here in “777.” But the return also brings back the more somber singer the world was introduced to during the early 2010s, especially in the soulful track “Put on a Smile.”

.Paak’s specialties have continued, perfectly fitting the album with a voice that embodies the sound of R&B. Among the lyrics are the consistent themes of classic Hollywood luxury and glamour, with mentions of Rolexes, mansions and Bentleys, mixing with the soul and funk of the times.

But at its core, the album mostly tackles love, lust and failed romances on both sides of the spectrum: heartbreak and exasperation. When not along those lines, the lyrics are about the image Mars and .Paak portray with every Silk Sonic appearance: the top button undone suits, sunglasses, cash-filled and smooth player personality that can come across as cocky.

But the music is here to bring emotions and moods of all kinds, including confidence. Overall, this isn’t an album to look into too deeply, and this isn’t the place to find hidden meanings and analogies, but it’s not trying to be that.

“An Evening With Silk Sonic” knows what it is, a fun, repeatable, easy on the ears collection of soul and R&B songs that fit modern-day radio beautifully. The album wouldn’t have three of the hottest singles of the year – “Leave the Door Open,” “Skate” and “Smokin’ Out the Window” – if it didn’t.

The orchestra brilliantly uses tremolos and long bows that usually introduce and end songs as well as carry the harmonies along while the toe-tapping percussion and horns drive the pieces forward. The bass shines frequently with funk and grooviness, while the guitar kind of gets put to the backburner until strong, enthralling riffs in “Blast Off” and “After Last Night.”

Vocally, Mars and .Paak are equally factored into the album, leaving two unique vocals that makes sure the listener doesn’t get tired of either of their strong suits. It’s difficult to beat Mars in any vocal competition, and he starts right where he left off. His talent gets to shine with high notes, runs, falsettos and the powerful chest voice that never cease to amaze.

But .Paak isn’t left in the dust. His voice brings the funk of the 1970s to life, and the slight rasp is to die for. A different kind of vocal is brought by funk legend Bootsy Collins, who has a perfect narration that transports the listener to the nostalgia of the album. But the addicting harmonies are the touch that I absolutely can’t get out of my head.

There’s rarely a single vocal for very long in the best way possible with the lead vocals weaving around the harmonies of every song. They flow with the tracks and bring a smoothness to the album that keeps the listener hooked, whether with a laid-back feel or adding to the energy, especially in “Smokin’ Out the Window.”

Back in March when “Leave the Door Open” and a Grammy performance (that I prefer over the official track) perfectly introduced the world to Silk Sonic by encapsulating the soulful R&B sound filled with harmonies and smooth verses, I was not at all prepared for what was to come.

The next single, the ever so groovy “Skate,” brought the summer feel, and the most recent single, “Smokin’ Out the Window,” brings the energy, pizzazz and catchiness that have made it my favorite track. Two other album highlights include “777” and “Put on a Smile,” both solid contenders for a single.

“An Evening With Silk Sonic” doesn’t have many negatives besides the fact that it’s too short; in fact, it’s a very strong contender for album of the year. But an album nod wasn’t in the cards Tuesday; the duo earned four Grammy nominations for record of the year, song of the year, best R&B song and best R&B performance.

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