What I Missed In 2016: Solange’s A Seat At the Table

Since I launched this blog in March, I have tried to write about as many wonderful things as I can, in essays, the podcast, and every Friday in the New Release Roundup. Try as I might, I can’t write about all the good stuff coming out. This will be my annual attempt to correct that. For the next ten days, I’ll be highlighting albums I missed in 2016. To cast an even wider net, I’ve enlisted some talented friends to write about some of their favorites this year. Look for that Friday.

SolangeA Seat At the Table
I had not read any reviews or interviews about this one before I sat down to listen to it. I had liked what I’d heard from Solange in the past. There is joy in her singing. I was surprised to find A Seat At the Table was a kind of concept album about racial identity, told through elegant R&B songs interspersed with interviews that serve as a kind of narrator for the experience. The first words you hear are “Fall in your ways, so you can crumble/Fall in your ways, so you can sleep at night/Fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise” from “Rise.” Juxtapose that message of self-worth with the next song, “Weary,” which warns, “Be leery ‘bout your place in the world/You’re feeling like you’re chasing the world.” There’s more than one battle going on here. There’s an internal struggle and a struggle with the rest of the world, and it’s hard to fight on two fronts at once. That’s the soul of this music. How that should resolve is addressed by Master P on the spoken word “The Glory Is In You.” He says, “As long as you find peace in what you doing, then you successful. And that’s what people don’t realize.” Easier said than done, as the rest of the album adds more personal stories and history to that fire. Solange has been working on this album since 2008, and the care she put into it shows. This must have been mentioned in other reviews, but it reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, a statement on modern times with a groove that gets into your bones.

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