|3||I Feel So Alone||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|4||Give Away My Love||lyrics||N/A||N/A|
|6||Pick Up The Phone||lyrics||N/A||N/A|
|8||Love Is Everywhere||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|10||In The Moment||lyrics||N/A||N/A|
|11||Godda Have It All||lyrics||N/A||N/A|
As an R&B group, Portrait has had a unique journey. Their career is predominantly known for its short burst from 1992-1996 when they released three albums, Portrait, All That Matters, and Picturesque. Their debut had their biggest hits with Here We Go Again, and Honey Dip.
After that, their career took them to Japan, where they released Share My Love exclusively. And after that, it was silence. For fifteen years, until 2020 when Portrait returned with a new R&B record, Afro Trees.
The record has a lot of familiar sounds for fans of the group, because the production was largely handled by group member Michael Angelo Soulsberry. The group consists of original members Soulsberry and Phillip Johnson, as well as two new members, Les Whitaker and Ruben Cruz.
Afro Trees is unfortunately frustrating to get now. It seems like it was largely released in vinyl form, and was mostly available in Japan and Europe. It doesn't seem visible on any digital mediums, so it can be difficult to get your hands on if you were hoping to hear new Portrait songs.
But enough backstory, how is the album?
Afro Trees is interesting in its makeup. We see a variety of styles and tempos explored.
Love is Everywhere has a funk sound to its Chicago soul. I like the vocals on this one, and the chorus has a bunch to it. We live and we die. And we love and we lie. Give Away My Love feels almost pulled out of the 80s with some midi sounds and overlaying female vocals. It works well on that track and keeps it fun. Meanwhile, Good Love is EDM, and doesn't work for me, but I gotta respect the versatility shown by Portrait.
Sometimes the production gets a bit too intrusive on Afro Trees. I enjoyed the track Closer, it had the potential to really resonate as Johnson reflects on the states of a relationship. However, it had so many bells and whistles going on in the song, it got too chaotic and distracting. The production on Afro Trees can work to its benefit though, like Godda Have It All which almost sounds like a Pharell track. It's really fun and the wild beat elevates the track further.
While Afro Trees has a variety of sounds, one track will likely stand out from the rest of Portrait's offerings. Raphael Saadiq contributed production on the album, working with the group on "I Feel So Alone." It's a great song, but it sounds so different, slowing things down and packing so much soul and distinct Saadiq sound.
Afro Trees has a number of standout tracks though, which will likely work themselves into regular rotation. Clear features Marc Nelson and a Japanese melody- the track sounds so good and fresh, it's a great listen. Pick Up the Phone was another solid track. Something about its delivery just felt so modern, it just clicks great.
Breaking down the album, I have a few issues with it. First, the lyrics just don't feel that unique or groundbreaking. A lot of the rhymes are fairly simple and cliche. And second, as mentioned earlier, some of the production gets a bit intrusive. I appreciate variety, but some tracks had so many different sounds and scratches it pulled you out of the record. Sometimes it's nice to just hear the men of Portrait sing without all the gadgets.
However, more than anything, I feel like in addition to their New Jack jams, Portrait was able to croon and harmonize with some great records. None of the tracks on this album really showcase the vocals and capabilities of the group like some of their past singles.
Favorite tracks on Afro Trees: Clear, Pick Up the Phone, Love is Everywhere