On June 19, Benny Starr’s latest release, A Water Album, answered a question critical minds may have posed during the LP’s near-sold out live recording at the Charleston Music Hall. Will this album have the same meaning, the same aura when removed from its convivial live atmosphere and put on a home speaker?
From the introduction’s smooth monologue and tense drum cracks down to Starr’s surprise metamorphosis into an R&B singer on the LP’s closer, “Palm Trees,” A Water Album breathes deeply and exhales life. Without fail, the audience’s excitement transfers to songs like the thoughtful self-evaluation “Resurrection,” the loving “Sublime,” and the confrontational “Water Keeps Rising.”
“To know that it connected with people here and connected with them in a way that it did, knowing that this album was very black — that’s what I wanted it to be — it’s just gratifying,” says Starr about the LP’s CPMA victory. Collaboration was a major theme for A Water Album. Poppy Native, the Four20s, Shaniqua McCants, Matt Monday, Niecy Blues, and Yannick Hiwat were just the guest stars seen on the album’s track list. Behind the scenes, Matt Zutell mixed and recorded the project, Tamika Gadsden ran a voter registration drive at the recording, and Samira Miche crafted the gorgeous album art.
“It’s a live album and I want people to listen to this album so that they can understand who are these people,” says the rapper. “I wanted to be really open and honest about the relationships I have with the band, the Four20s, the collaborators.”
When asked what it means to him that an LP rooted in black culture won the CPMA for Album of the Year, Starr, always the advocate, says that it’s a complicated feeling.
“It tells me what I’ve already known: The things that black culture creates, everyone loves. We know that looking at blues, jazz, film, what became of rock ’n’ roll,” he says. “But the juxtaposition of what’s going on, not just here, but all over the country in different places, all over the world in different places, there’s a lot of anti-blackness. In confronting that and talking about that, rebelling against that white-supremacy and anti-blackness is not always comfortable.”
As Starr notes, A Water Album remains a political piece, just as it is an art piece. The album’s consistent ability to unite people of differing races with the express intent of lifting up one marginalized community may be the most powerful statement yet.