Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s Soul Simulacrum

The pleasure of “An Evening with Silk Sonic” comes from watching two charismatic leads with undeniable chemistry and a shared appreciation for vintage hi-fi stylings.

By Sheldon PearceNovember 17, 2021

An album cover featuring Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak in glasses.

In March, Bruno Mars and the rapper Anderson .Paak released “Leave the Door Open,” a shimmering retro serenade that is as goofy as it is sincere. “My house clean (House clean), my pool warm (Pool warm) / Just shaved, smooth like a newborn,” they sing, with Mars suggestively accenting .Paak’s entreaties. The single was the first song the duo released under the name Silk Sonic, and it became clear that the two musicians—both devotees of classic soul who first distinguished themselves in other genres—were well-matched, with .Paak’s tender vocals pleasantly accentuated by Mars’s fuller tone. The pair had met on tour, in 2017, and found a knack for making music out of their in-jokes. Pandemic lockdowns allowed them to go all in on their extracurricular collaboration. As the lead single, “Leave the Door Open” already feels like a relic of two different epochs: seventies soul, with its fidelity and showmanship, and the winter months of the pandemic, with its emphasis on domestic comforts and its palpable longing for connection in close quarters.

After a lengthy, ten-month promotional cycle—the incessant tinkering that Mars is known for seems to have delayed the record’s release—their collaborative album, “An Evening with Silk Sonic,” has arrived, no worse for wear. Brandishing the earnestness and style of seventies rhythm and blues, the album summons the flash and presentation of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” music video, and the songs take an analog instrumental approach, layering in bass, strings, horns, and keys. (Mars, for his part, plays electric guitar, conga drums, and even the sitar.) This is a dutiful homage, down to the last detail: Silk Sonic equipped its instrumentalists with the specific drum skins, guitar pics, and gauged strings that would recreate the seventies sound, duplicated “old-school” playing styles, and even tried to re-stage their forebears’ recording conditions, using only a few mics on musicians playing together in the same room. Projects this reliant on nostalgia rarely stand up on their own, but that doesn’t mean the record’s feel-good charms and technical flourishes can’t be appreciated for what they are: well-intentioned restorations of a form that doesn’t need much updating.

Sheldon Pearce is the music writer and editor for Goings On About Town.More:Music, MusiciansFunk MusicR. & B.Bruno MarsAlbum Reviews

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