It’s not hard to spot a Naked Music head in a crowd of house aficionados — there’s something about the way they walk, the way they dance, and the way they move that captures the label’s aesthetic to a tee. After all, Naked Music NYC is nearly synonymous with sexy, sophisticated deep house, the kind of house that allows a person to dance without working up a decidedly unglamorous sweat. Since its inception in 1998, Naked has released a slew of sultry tunes and popular compilations, most of which come adorned with a saucy drawing of a voluptuous woman in some stage of undress.
The album that started it all, What’s on Your Mind?, gets another whirl on Reconstructed Soul with some new remixes combined with work from other artists. Naked Music founder Jay Denes (aka Blue Six) teamed up with a distinguished group of musicians to produce the album. Vocalists Ada Dyer and Catherine Russell add their distinctive, sultry voices; Jonathan Maron, who played the bass on albums by D’Angelo and Maxwell and is currently the regular bass player for the Groove Collective; Bob Power, sound engineer for albums by such groups as A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, De La Soul, and The Roots; Dave Boonshoft, bass player for classic Run DMC and Ultra Nate albums; Itaal Shur, keyboardist and co-writer of Maxwell’s “Ascension”, and a slew of other talented folks. As expected of remix albums, the tracks don’t flow together or form a cohesive statement, but this disc is a solid collection of house gems sure to get those hips shaking and the champagne flowing.
The essence of Naked Music is an easy, laid-back decadence, and this is readily apparent from the start of Reconstructed Soul. The Naked Spirits Mix of Denes’ “If I Fall” is a charming tune propelled by lazy bongos, a subdued house beat, warm, easy bass, and gentle snatches of chorus. Gospel-tinged vocals and rustling bells add gentle flourishes. “3AM” is another classic Naked track, and taken from What’s on Your Mind?, it appears here in its original form. An undulating synth line rides smoothly over a spare beat, while a casually plucked upright bass and lonesome saxophone add a hint of melancholy. Another track plucked from What’s on Your Mind?, “Love Is Everything”, captures the label’s hazy, effortless vibe. Resonant keyboard chords, a confident beat, and a sultry voice combined with sparkling tones, rich bass, and meandering guitar crystallize the classic downbeat Naked sound.
The remixes on this album do a good job of punching up the original tunes. Shur and Denes pair up once again to rework “If I Fall”, and in their Afrorican Splendor dub, the song moves towards the uptempo with a shuffling rhythm section, lite triangle tinklings, flirty brushes of keyboard, and plenty of tribal drumming. Miguel Migs (otherwise known as Petalpusher) contributes a delightful peak-hour re-rub of the same song, called the Deluxe Soul Dub, adding a groovy bassline, hi-fi lasers, and a nice, hollow woodblock.
“It’s Love” gets similar treatment. Denes’ 6th Sense Dub takes the tune straight to the dancefloor with its assortment of assertive, clear drums, gentle tambourine shakes, exhaled breaths, and a diva’s voice rising above ambient washes of sound. Hernan’s Dub Revolution remix transforms the song into a delightful house romp with skittering percussion, a playful flute, and an assertive beat, embellished with a rapid-fire succession of pops and clicks. Chris Brann, under his Wamdue Project guise, contributes a stellar remix of the song, this time incorporating a throbbing kick drum and gentle washes of sound before sliding in a sneaky bass and bongo drums.
Definitely an album for fans of the label, and those with an affinity for top-notch deep house, Reconstructed Soul explores the beginnings of Naked Music and brings their classic tunes into the present.