AS GOOD AS NEW
BY ABRAHAM KURANGA
Fear not! There has been a Mint Condition sighting.
The multi-talented band is made up of lead singer/drummer, Stokley Williams, guitarist O’Dell (né Homer O’Dell), Ricky Kinchen on lead guitar and bass, keyboardist Larry Waddell and saxophonist/keyboardist Jeffery Allen. Known for their break-out hit, “(Breaking My Heart) Pretty Brown Eyes,” from their 1991 opus Meant to Be Mint and their platinum hit single “What Kinda Man Would I Be,” from 1996’s Definition of a Band, coupled with moderately successful album sales and critical acclaim, and you end up with, well… the definition of a band.
After a much-needed break and the departure of a member to marry an R&B songstress (keyboardist Keri Lewis left the group and eventually married Grammy award winner Toni Braxton), the band feels better than ever with their new offering, Livin’ the Luxury Brown.
According to lead singer Stokley, the break was truly bittersweet. “Being on tour all the time took its toll on us and our relationship,” reveals Stokley. “So, we took the time to just live. Some of us took classes; others explored hobbies, learned different languages.”
During the sabbatical, the group parted ways with their long-time recording company, Elektra. Like many seasoned artists today, Mint Condition started their own label, Caged Bird, which is distributed through the Image Music Group. The new label name is not by coincidence, says Stokley. “It’s taken from the Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” explains Stokley. “We feel like now we’re the free birds that can sing. Our label is the bird cage that’s open.”
The result of being free, according to Stokley is the Livin’ the Luxury Brown collection. When going into the studio to record this album, the group vowed to “remain free and open, with no ceiling,” said Stokley. “Since we have a lot of influences, we wanted to have no boundaries with our music.”
Band influences are wide-ranging, encompassing Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, Led Zeppelin, and 70s jazz supergroup Weather Report. However, it is the Minneapolis sound of decorated production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who have also worked with Janet Jackson, The Time, Mary J. Blige, New Edition, Boyz II Men and most every other R&B act that matters over the last two decades) that ultimately shot the group into the music industry limelight.
Luxury is choked full of the signature Mint Condition sound. “I’m Ready” is a perfect example of the solid, live experience Mint Condition exudes on an album. With the hollow-yet-definitive drums in the background and Stokley’s instantly recognizable voice over the entire track, it’s bound to be a staple track on Luxury. The crunchy, gritty rock and roll feel of “Runaway” add to the shocking lyrics of its chorus. “Run away/or die today/it’s not too late/you gotta choose ‘cause she’s killing you.” The sunny, bright feeling of “Whoaa” should make it a good choice for a radio single.
The richness and sincerity of the music is one quality that Mint Condition wanted fans to hear. “We wanted to celebrate the heritage and tradition inside of us,” reveals Stokley. “We as ‘brown’ people had humble beginnings, but it is still luxurious where we came from.”
It is worth noting that Mint Condition takes pride in being a self-contained band. Not only that, but a group that plays its own instruments in recording and live on stage. It is something that has become an anomaly within the music industry today, especially among R&B acts.
“Nobody is doing it,” says Stokley. “We would like for more artists to be doing. Too much of one thing isn’t good.” Mint Condition is hoping that all the right ingredients are in place to make a comeback. Okay, maybe not so much a comeback but a re-emergence. “We’ve been looking for the right team, the distribution, marketing, promotion,” says Stokley. “But the music had to be great first. We had to feel comfortable.” The music should bring back memories from their humble beginnings in Minneapolis and should refresh the minds and hearts of their core fans. “We want them to remember that we were about positivity,” says Stokley. “We’re uninhibited, inspirational and filled with love.”
So, don’t call it a comeback; because Mint Condition is as good as new.
|#1 © 2005 Courtesy of Caged Bird Records. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2005 Courtesy of Caged Bird Records. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 7, 2005.