"Leave It All Behind" by The Foreign Exchange

The Foreign Exchange
Leave It All Behind

Hardboiled
2008

Review

Phonte takes Soul music (maybe a bit too) seriously.

Although given his work as Percy Miracles, you might never have guessed it. I know a lot of people who were fans of The Foreign Exchange's first album who were reticent to give this album a look once they learned it was heavy on the R&B/Soul and light on the MC'ing. It is true that only two tracks on the album feature a rapping Phonte and the album is most decidedly not a hip-hop album. Phonte is a more than serviceable singer and his trademark charisma shines through on the album in spite of him "oohing and ahhing" more than "mic check one two'ing" and also in spite of some very conventional lyrics.

Nicolay's work on the last album had a heavy Soul influence anyhow and musically he remains consistent here. The music on the album is multi-layered and full of jazzy, soulful arrangements. I know that their last album was made without ever having actual met face to face and done via exchanging of electronic communications (hence their name) and I'm not sure if that is the case here. The album shines when the musical elements blend perfectly with Phonte's singing and stutters when they don't.

The album starts off very strong with the trio of "Daykeeper", "Take Off The Blues", and "All Or Nothing / Coming Home To You". "Daykeeper" is one of the more experimental tracks on the album whereas "Take Of The Blues" and "All Nothing / Coming Home To You" are more representative of the rest of the album. "Take Of The Blues" could serve as Phonte's elevator pitch for the album:

Kick off your shoes kick off the blues and come to me So much to do so much is new for me to see
You might as well come a little closer
Don't make me wait too long for you

Phonte makes a convincing Soul man writing lyrics about falling in and out of love in a conventional Soul-music way. There is no doubt that lyrically he is a better MC than Soul lyricist but he does do a good job selling the material with his voice.

As I mentioned before, the album suffers when Nicolay and Phonte are out of sync and for me those moments are on the tracks "House Of Cards", "Sweeter Than You", and "If She Breaks Your Heart" (which is further harmed by not featuring Phonte).

There are moments of brilliance on the album when the duo are in sync and it is interesting to me that the two standout moments for me are the least conventional from a Soul music standpoint. I am talking about the opener track "Daybreak" and the almost-ready-for-the-dancefloor "If This Is Love". These two tracks for me represent a yet untapped potential for The Foreign Exchange musically and I would love to see them push the boundaries of their sound the way they do on these two songs.

So the lyrics are mostly conventional Soul music lyrics and Phonte does not MC very often. If you can get beyond that you will find an album that is elevated by passion and production. Let's hope that Phonte has more "Phonte moments" on the next album to rival his one on this one from "Something To Behold":

I wanna call you everyday when I ain't got shit to say Baby, this must be love

...how's that for conventional? While the album could use a bit more of that, it is still worth recommending and definitely worth taking a listen to if you like Soul music and are into Nicolay's production.

4.091 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Daykeeper (04:41) 5
2. Take Off the Blues (04:06) 5
3. All or Nothing / Coming Home to You (04:54) 5
4. I Wanna Know (03:01) 4
5. House of Cards (03:19) 3
6. Sweeter Than You (03:46) 3
7. Valediction (02:01) 4
8. If She Breaks Your Heart (05:20) 3
9. If This Is Love (04:30) 5
10. Something to Behold (04:52) 4
11. Leave It All Behind (03:37) 4