"What Matters Most": Stevo's Liner Notes
The first track on our record, “Can’t Deny It”, is a song that I ended up writing on my own with guidance from Ginger. She encouraged me to come up with vocals for this track after I had initially envisioned it as an instrumental. The drum groove is reminiscent of one of my favorite David Ruffin songs from the 70’s. There’s a lot of joy in this track, and a wonderful sax solo by Rastine Calhoun, a great musician who has worked with legendary artists like Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin and Babyface.
“In My House” is the classic hit from The Mary Jane Girls with a twist – I asked singer Jessica Vautor to translate the verses into French, and she came through for me big time! Jessica was raised in Martinique, and her native language is French. We got to know each other while working with the great Neo-Soul singer Amel Larrieux. I absolutely love Jessica’s voice and her overall vibe. She has a playful spirit, a great sense of humor, and we’re both choco-holics! This song captures her playfulness, and I also love the instrumental section where the strings take center stage.
“Waiting On A Friend” is a very special song to me. It’s quite unique in that it celebrates the bond and the affection that men can have for each other, especially when things may not be going well with the women in our lives. My favorite line: “I need someone I can cry to; I need someone to protect.” This one also features some great work by keyboardist Jeff Babko and saxophonist Rastine Calhoun.
“Gingerly” is another favorite of ours. Most of the melody was composed by Ginger; I added a few things and put the arrangement together. “Gorgeous” is the word that comes to mind when I listen to this one. It features a beautiful rendering of the melody by violinist Liza Piccadilly, and a flugelhorn solo by Michael Hunter that captures the spirit of this piece perfectly. Michael is a world-class soloist who has worked with Lenny Kravitz, Rick James, and The Godfather of Soul James Brown.
Our version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain” is one that I am particularly proud of. I’ve always loved this song, and wanted to find a unique way of interpreting it. Starting with just the vocal and string quartet was a great way to highlight the simple beauty of Bob’s songwriting genius. The groove at the end is equal parts Jamaica and New Orleans, and I absolutely love the vibe that we captured on this one.
“Find Myself With You” started out as a chord progression that Ginger came up with. When she played it for me I yelled out, “That’s soul music baby!”, and I started singing the chorus idea that’s on there now. Once we had those two elements, I wrote a couple of verses and a bridge, then filled out the rest of the arrangement. Beautiful guitar work by Yarone Levy, and we love the sexiness of this one!
“Is What It Is” is funky, but also lighthearted and fun. Featured soloists are: Greg “Gee Mack” Dalton, who has worked with Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg and L.L. Cool J. Gee Mack is about as greasy as it gets! Kamasi Washington is a young lion who has worked with Kendrick Lamar, Raphael Saadiq, Mos Def, Chaka Khan, Quincy Jones and Stanley Clarke. Chris Woods is an amazingly gifted violinist who has worked with Justin Timberlake, Faith Evans, Outkast and The Black Eyed Peas. Chris Gray has worked with Earth Wind and Fire and Idina Menzel, and has been in the pit orchestras of The Academy Awards and Dancing With The Stars. Funk master James Manning holds down the bass groove with authority, and everyone brings the heat on this one!
“Zoom” is one of my favorite songs that The Commodores recorded back in the day. Our version features a great young soul singer named TJ Gibson. TJ embodies everything that a great soul singer should be - he has passion, commitment, improvisational skills, and a vocal tone that can be rough around the edges, but also sweet with the falsetto. This brother is the real deal! I love working with TJ because each vocal take is likely to bring something new into the mix. He lives completely in the moment, and it’s a joy to make music with him. TJ has worked with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Earth Wind and Fire, and local L.A. legends The Polyester Players.
“Pillow Talk” features another favorite singer of mine, Miss Shannon Pearson. Shannon and I met when we were both on the road in Johannesburg, South Africa. There’s a sweetness in Shannon’s voice that I find to be completely irresistible. She also has that rare gift of being able to place the right lick in the right spot at the right time. I love the feel of this song, and Shannon’s interpretation of it. Shannon has worked with Katy Perry, P. Diddy, George Duke, Jeffrey Osborne, Patti LaBelle, Natalie Cole, Al Jarreau, and many others.
On “Maybe So” Ginger Murphy really shows off her skills as a writer, and as a musician who has mastered the art of playing melody. She’s a very expressive, soulful player who wholeheartedly loves what she does, and you can hear that in every note she plays. Also featured on this track is master musician Katisse Buckingham. To put it simply, this man is a beast! When Katisse came in to the studio, I played the track for him and we had a little chat about the vibe of the song. Then I pressed record, and what you hear is what we got on the first take - he just nailed it. Katisse has worked with Prince, Dr. Dre, Herbie Hancock, Poncho Sanchez and many others. He also regularly leads his own groups at The Baked Potato in Los Angeles.
"Keep Talkin" is a little snippet features Greg "Gee Mack" Dalton, with support from myself, James Manning on bass, and the masterful Kenneth Crouch on electric piano. Gee Mack rides this outro 'til he's the last man standing... Enjoy!