Mark Ronson gets more attention as a producer for what he brings to, and out of, other musicians than for his own releases. But on his fourth album, Uptown Special, Ronson has saved the best for himself, with Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Alicia Keys) co-writing and -producing and acclaimed novelist Michael Chabon contributing lyrics.
Uptown Special’s overall tone features classic funk and R&B along the lines of masters James Brown and Stevie Wonder (who appears on the album). But the album is by no means restricted to those styles. The Steely Dan-informed breezy and beautiful “Summer Breaking” is the first of three delicately vocalized tracks from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. He taps into his falsetto on “Daffodils,” giving the rock-guitar-spiked funk a groovy psychedelic twist.
The parade of special guests continues throughout the album. The stanky funk of “Feel Right,” with its saucy brass and Mystikal’s downright nasty vocalization, most exemplifies the spirit of Uptown Special. Newcomer Keyone Starr is the soul queen ripping over “I Can’t Lose.” Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt releases his inner soulboy on the walk-of-shame tribute “Crack In The Pearl,” which features Wonder on harmonica. And the snazzy guitar and smooth vocal of “Heavy And Rolling” create a super-slick track.
Without sacrificing authenticity, Ronson has created an accessible, pop-friendly, and undeniably sexy collection of funk and R&B.