Everybody can say what they want about the state of R&B/soul music, attempting to discredit it in this current age where trap music seemingly dominates the airwaves, or even boast to say that it’s dead. We’d like to ask in what universe is this statement true? It couldn’t have been in Baltimore, MD on May 5th, when the M.E. Tour crash landed at Rams Head Live. The “M.E.” of the tour name stands as an acronym for two contemporary R&B artists who are from different eras, but are both holding it down in today’s music climate. Eric Benét is a 20+ year, four-time Grammy nominated music veteran who has stood the test of time, stemming from when R&B was THE dominating force on radio and Marsha Ambrosius is a musical belle that hit the scene at the height of the neo-soul movement in early 2000, but together they create an experience in the NOW that’s so fresh and organic.
At approximately 9 PM, Mr. Benét took to the stage in a rather simplistic approach rocking a pair of jeans, a burgundy velvet blazer and fedora. Accompanied by just a keyboard player and one female backup singer (Ms. Jessica Jolia), he was greeted to much fanfare when the crowd cheered as if they’d seen a long lost friend for the first time in while. Honestly, he came to show these young R&B dudes how it’s done, proving that you don’t need overproduced beats and some no-named rapper to captivate a crowd. From the very first note that was delivered, it was obvious that he had not missed a beat, whether it was in terms of vocals or showmanship.
A lot of times when you don’t hear from an artist, you tend to forget the impact that they once had on music. When Eric started going through his back catalog, I had totally forgot about a number of those songs, but feel even worse that I forgot that HE was the curator of those songs. One song in particular was his 2005 track “I Wanna Be Loved“, lifted from his “Hurricane” project. At the time of it’s release, it was a beautiful moment for artistry where singers and songwriters were still speaking directly from the heart and using that emotion to tap into the souls of their fans. On the flip side, it was also what I tend to consider the last days of GREAT music before the imminent switch to where we are today musically.
Not to rely too much on his older material and thinking that he’s an act that plays solely off of his “nostalgic” value, what’s a concert tour without new music being pushed as well? 2016 saw the release of his 10th studio album of all brand new material, which was simply a self titled project “Eric Benét“. The first single off of that album is the insanely groovy “Sunshine“, which stands up to it’s name by putting you in bright disposition even upon first listen but deals with the subject matter on how a relationship has lost its way or spark.
Of course you couldn’t expect, or even enjoy an E. Benét show without the one song that REALLY put him on the map, you already know which track I’m referring to. The hit #1 single from 1999 which featured Tamia, “Spend My Life Life With You” is one of those quintessential love songs which has become the anthem at many weddings. The live performance sounded almost exactly the same as it did on the record, with the exception of featuring Jessica Jolia instead of Tamia on the lead female vocals, and for a minute, we almost forgot that Tamia was even on the song, because Ms. Jolia OWNED it and totally made it her own. It was this song that took me back to being in high school, but also took audience members back too. You could look through the crowd and observe how couples gazed in each others eyes and gently grabbed one another’s hand while whispering the lyrics.
In a surprising but welcoming portion of the show, the balladeer took a slight pause from working the crowd by taking a seat center stage and woman instantly thought that he was about to pull a lucky participant on stage to give a one-on-one serenade to, but that was the further from the truth. The pause for the cause was to let us know of his deep admiration of the widely loved and missed musical genius, who simply goes by the name of Prince. Tackling a song that Prince created is something that one would deem as tricky, because of his unique voice and delivery, and if you come up short, your name will trend on social media after show. In the case of the “How Come You Don’t Call Me” cover, there was absolutely nothing to worry about as Eric put his own spin on the classic tune and nailed it.
Before you knew it, it was close to 10 PM and his set was drawing to an end, where he closed out with “Georgy Porgy”. For those of you who are a fan of E. Benét or just love really good, live music, make it a point to find out when this brother will be in town. There are still a handful of dates left on the M.E. Tour, so grab a ticket, your significant other, and make your way out to this show. You’ll thank us later!