I often feel that Angie Stone is an underappreciated entity in modern soul music. Not only has she managed to maintain a musical career that spans more than three decades — an impressive feat in itself — she has also been a pioneer of sorts. First of all she was a member of Sequence, often cited as the first all-female hip-hop act, who were signed to Sylvia Rhone‘s Sugar Hill Records in the early ’80s. They had a moderate hit with “Funk You Up” and went on to release three studio albums, ultimately disbanding after 1983’s The Sequence Party. They are also notable for being one of the first acts to have a run-in with the now infamous Rhone who sold the licensing rights to “Funk You Up” to Dr. Dre.
Stone is probably best known as one of the vanguards of the neo-soul era, enjoying major success with her 1999 debut Black Diamond as well as subsequent albums. She is also
infamous famous for having a hand in D’Angelo‘s early career (and having a child with him), but, in the time between Sequence and her solo outing, Stone had her finger in a number of musical pies including Mantronix, Devox and Vertical Hold. The latter’s debut album A Matter of Time was released in 1993 and introduced listener’s to the smooth R&B and soul stylings that Stone would go on to be known for several years later.
A Matter of Time falls firmly into the realms of ’90s R&B, anchored by synth-led midtempo numbers and mellow ballads that showcase Stone’s impressive vocal ability. Apart from a cover of the Isley Brothers‘ “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love),” all the tracks on A Matter of Time were written by Angie Stone either with or without the other two band members, drummer David Bright and keyboardist Willie Bruno II. The album’s opening cut “A.S.A.P.” features a reggae-inspired rap from Mikey Jarrett and is probably the album’s most uptempo number, with Stone setting out her intentions to the object of her attention over an addictive and memorable dance groove laid down by Bruno and Bright. In contrast, the album’s lead single “Seems You’re Much Too Busy” is a soothing slice of smooth R&B that led to comparisons between Stone and Chaka Khan. While “Seems You’re Much Too Busy” was certainly the album’s most memorable, and most recognizable track, there was, and still is, much more worth investigating.
Ballads have always been a strong point for Stone and “7, 6, 5 (For Love),” while it may sound dated now, is a great example of her straightforward style and ability to wrap those honey-coated vocals around what could be a rather mundane lyric in the hands of anybody else. “Magic Carpet Ride” is one of the LP’s standout cuts, with its classic early-’90s quiet storm groove and is notable for the fact that Lenny Kravitz guests on guitar duties. Stone would go on to sing background for Kravitz as well as collaborate with his cousin Gerry DeVeaux as one-third of Devox and cover Kravitz’s 1993 hit “Heaven Help” for Black Diamond.
The aforementioned Isley Brothers cover “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love)” is a slightly less successful venture with Vertical Hold’s version, while being pleasant enough, ultimately it comes off as forgettable in the face of the original. Returning to the “safe zone” of slinky midtempo numbers, “Matter of Time” is one of my personal favorites as Stone completely nails her vocal and it’s also one of the only times that her collaborators step out of the shadows, with Bruno delivering a brief solo. As much as Vertical Hold was billed as a trio, I can’t help but feel that is was more a vehicle for Stone to transition from her hip-hop roots to something more R&B orientated.
As a standalone album A Matter of Time isn’t all that remarkable, however as a step on the evolutionary ladder for one of modern soul music’s iconic figures it’s an album worth investigating, particularly for Angie Stone fans who thought her career began in 1999.
Vertical Hold A Matter Of Time [Amazon]