Lenny Kravitz newest release Black and White America is a response, in particular to hate and racism that seems to still permeate the very fabric of our modern society. The ninth studio album from Kravitz is an exploration of his journey through life, not only as the child of an interracial couple but his spiritual journey. It’s the right album at the right time, with old-school soul sounds and words of understanding Kravitz sounds very much the sage who wants nothing more than to share his understanding and pass a little love our way.
Kravitz is the son of black actress Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on the ‘70s sitcoms All In the Family and The Jefferson, and NBC news producer Sy Kravitz. Marrying in the early 60’s was something of a challenge socially, the after-effects were something that Lenny carried with him, as was the deep impact of his parents divorce.
This album is something of a celebration of his parents union, starting out with “Black and White America” Kravitz speaks of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision, as well as the very real danger his parent faced as an interracial couple in the early ‘60’s. With a funky sound and old soul Kravitz sets the stage.
Kravitz’ very real perspective of music in both black and white culture brings this album together and is a true blending of various styles, exactly what one would expect from Kravitz. From the soul-tinged title track to the incredibly moving and inspiring “Push” as the last track Kravitz takes his listener on a musical journey, there are a few bumps along the way.
Boongie Drop is a bit confusing; with a hypnotic drum loop expected at any nightclub but not much else to capture the listener the song seems lost. DJ Military and Jay-Z make appearances on the track, but it’s hard to understand why they are needed, what a “Boongie” is or how this song plays into the biographical journey.
One track that seems well intentioned but falls slightly flat is “Stand”, which seems to be fodder for a commercial or PSA in the near future with it’s simplistic lyrics and almost generic sound, this cut is radio friendly and radio ready. Fortunately this track is not very long, and is followed by the funk of “Superlove” which is worth more than one spin, in fact take this one in several times. A slow moving funk beat carries this song all the way through and ends the first record well.
Kravitz has never fallen into one genre, combining many styles and providing his own take on various styles throughout the years. This album is no exception and the distance between the cuts can be very deep. The hey-day of arena rock and it’s big sound created with keyboards and power-chords is explored on “I Can’t Be Without You” then is quickly followed by a funk/soul number “Looking Back On Love” with roots in the ‘60’s. For some artists this jump would be something of a stumbling block but for Kravitz, a man who has based his career on change, this seems like a natural progression,
The album itself is well made, the mix for vinyl was well done, that is certainly to be expected from Kravitz and his hands-on style. The gatefold is covered in family photos and the sleeves each have a photo of Kravitz (one old, one young) with the lyrics on the flip side. Even the records have photos of Kravitz on the center label, each one depicting Kravitz at various points in his life. Kudos for the personalization and creativity of the packaging, for such a personally inspired album the very personal packaging is well-suited.
Overall Black and White America is a great album, providing a roller coaster ride of various styles, rhythms and emotions that we can expect from Kravitz. The overall theme is one of love, acceptance and unity, coming from someone so personally impacted by prejudice and racism it’s a hopeful and inspiring record.
By Meredith Underhill