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December 7, 2011 / jhsaeger

TheRoots Come undun

    The late night magicians that are The Roots have been busy the last fewyears.  Despite their night shift as Jimmy Fallon’s house band, thehip-hop group has spent a vast amount of time in the studio – logging hours asthe musicians for records by Betty Wright, John Legend, and Booker T. Joneswhile managing to deliver two of their own in the last two years.  Theirmost recent album, undun, was released this Tuesday.  The band’s tenthfull-length record over their 18-year career, undun is their first run at aconcept album.  
   The 14-track undun sports a host of guest performers to help deliver therecord.  Dice Raw (Nouveau Riche), Big K.R.I.T, Truck North, Bilal Oliver, Greg Porn, andPhonte all join The Roots, who are led by Black Thought (aka Tariq Trotter) anddrummer ?uestlove (Amir Thompson).  Recorded in both New York City andPhiladelphia, undun has a unique concept behind it, as it is a personalretrospective for the imprisoned character Redford Stevens, who appears to be driftingtoward the end of something momentous.  After two brief songs, includingthe odd instrumental track “Dun,” the record drifts into theall-instrumental four-part Redford Suite.  

  The heart of undun lies in the eight lyrical songs that are sandwiched by the instrumental bits.  That set of songs becomes more passionate as the album progresses, particularly with “I Remember” and “Tip The Scale.”  The penultimate song in the lyrical set of songs, “I Remember” stands out as the best song on the album.  A heartfelt ballad from Trotter and background vocalists Mercedes Martinez and Tracey Moore, the track really helps draw the story behind the record to a close.  The final track in the set, “Tip The Scale,” is a slower song that paints the dark picture of a burdened Redford nearing an end of a phase of his life (or life itself).  
  undun’s Redford Suite is divided into four segments of brief instrumental tracks that total just 5:20 in length.  Each of the four tracks is a classical piece with a small but beautiful string section.  The Sufjan Stevens’ creation “Redford” stands out as the best of the lot; it’s a pensive arrangement that stands out as a sharp contrast to the soulful jams of The Roots. 
  If one word had to be chosen to describe undun, it is “different.”  Even after multiple listens, it has still taken some time to wrap my head around it and decide if it is different in a good or bad way.  The musicianship is stellar, as always, but the direction of the album is truly unique.  But, in a way, it defines The Roots’ extensive catalog as yet another provocative set of music and words that warrants attention.  

     Here is the video for undun’s “Tip The Scale,” parental advisory content, blah-blah:

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