In the mid ’90s I was starting to settle into life as a young adult. I’d finished college, found a job and lived a content little life on the east edge of downtown Columbus. The Olde Towne East neighborhood of Columbus was no Harlem or Shaw,but it was one of the few places in Columbus that seemed to harbor more than it’s share of progressively minded black people, even as they were being displaced by speculators (gay white men) bent on gentrifying and or flipping Victorian homes.
In this diverse environment there was jazz, classical and all manner of r&b mixed in with the high energy dance club music the gay community brought with them. Of all the noise, one sound caught my ear, a new sound was winning favor with younger bohemians, it was the so-called Neo-Soul movement.
Like alternative hip hop vs. traditional rap, the Neo soul movement became an alternative to the Mariah Carey and R. Kellys of the world. D’Angelo, Maxwell and Blial were just a few of the new artists who were the early voices of the movement. Their musical cues came directly from vintage R&B with modern overtones, bypassing the ignorant rants of gangster rap with its narrow sampling preferences.
When Groove Theory’s self titled debut arrived in 1995, European influenced dance music and stylish restraint was added to the musical vocabulary of the Neo-Soul movement. Groove Theory was no so much a band as it was a chance union of DJ/Rapper Bryce Wilson from Mantronix and Amel Larrieux. Larrieux was a receptionist before she became the cool voice of a movement.
Larrieux, a talented singer/songwriter in her own right, co-wrote and arranged nearly all the songs on Groove Theory, while Wilson’s slick production moved seamlessly from jazz to trip hop and funk.
The diverse influences were all pulled together by Larrieux laid-back vocal style that was cool, but not emotionally distant. The bands biggest hit ‘Tell Me’ cracked the top 10 pop chart, while reaching #3 on the American R&B charts. Other singles ‘Keep Tryin’ and ‘Baby Luv’ failed to chart beyond the top 50, but help establish Groove Theory as a gold selling record.
Any number of songs could have been singles, as the record’s diversity and high production and writing values made it a filler free project. With so much going for it, the Groove Theory project seemed like a no brainer for a follow-up.
Unfortunately, by the time that happened, Larrueux had left to persue a solo career. Makeda Davis would step in her place, but the chemistry was not there. After one single, crippled by the labels lack of enthusiasm, Wilson asked to be released from his contract and the band officially disbanded, with an unreleased album waiting in the wings.
Amel Larrieux would continue to create innovative music that pretty much picked up where Groove Theory left off. There was talk of a reunion years ago, but it never happened. The neo-soul movement has run its course, but Larrieux remains one of those go to artist for black urban bohemians in the know.