Foreign Exchange - Leave It All Behind 2LPForeign Exchange
The second Foreign Exchange album reverses the rapping/singing split of the first. Not only is Leave It All Behind much more an R&B album than 2004's Connected - it's more an R&B album than a lot of modern releases filed in that section, given that Phonte slips into MC mode only twice while otherwise putting his sensitive singing voice to full use. Even more nuanced and textured, and therefore more musical than Connected, Leave It All Behind is a concise and complete set of songs that brings out the best of both producer Nicolay and Phonte. More than ever, Nicolay's mellow but moving productions have that lingering, memory-triggering effect mastered by the late J Dilla, and a multitude of shades is cast: dreamy folk-soul that ranks with the Beauty Room and latter-day 4hero, lean and contemporary constructions that would fit within any adult-oriented R&B station's playlist, deceptively frictional backdrops that bridge hip-hop to West London broken beat, and even the intermittent unclassifiable moment, with several styles thrown into swirls of crescendo-enhanced dramatics. Joined by Connected accomplices Darien Brockington and YahZarah (her lead turn on "If She Breaks Your Heart" sounds even more like a lost Stevie/Minnie collaboration than the Jungle Fever soundtrack original), as well as Muhsinah (an earthbound Georgia Anne Muldrow), Phonte does not deliver knockouts, yet he is not out of his depth and never reaches beyond his grasp, exuding warmth and sincerity as effectively as anyone praised for inhuman range. Even when his lyrics deal in the less complicated aspects of relationships, his voice provides a gently bittersweet tint, as a man with his guard down whose articulations are neither reactionary nor based on some false posture. And with love as it's core rather than impulsive lust, as well as it's unified feel, Leave It All Behind is not just a unique and exceptional R&B album but also a soundtrack or means of communication - when heat-of-the-moment resentment, a lump in the throat, or anxious longing get in the way - for a real-life adult relationship.