Soulful House is a singles-driven genre. You rarely get a true extended play EP rather than a single and a few remixes (including – it’s inevitable – the generic instrumental and dub mixes).
Yet Ralf Gum’s career over the last seven years has been defined by the albums he’s released. It took him nearly a decade of preparation for his first, and with Uniting Music, Ralf carved out a place in the firmament. 2012’s Never Leaves You saw Ralf in transition from his native Germany to South Africa. Now a resident of the country, 2014’s In My City poses a number of questions – not the least of which is which “city” he actually means.
This is again a real album – as real as Moodymann or Songs In The Key of Life. Every one of the 10 tracks on In My City has a featured player and most (including Portia Monique on “Free” and frequent collaborator Monique Bingham on the ultra-’90s Strictlyesque throwback “The Pap”) are among the best vocalists in the world.
The influence flows both ways here, from man to environment as well as from environment to man; as Ralf’s in some ways influenced the South African music scene, it has in obvious ways changed him and his music. “With Her Hand” (featuring Hugh Masekela) is the most obvious example of this, followed by “Bi ‘na ba n’jo”, which is a taste of a full-blown fully modernized Afropop. “Our Love Is A Star” (featuring Jocelyn Mathieu) on the other hand is an evolution of what’s come before – in this piece Ralf simply exceeds the level of virtuosity typically permissible by the gods in 4/4 House Music. It’s basically an R&B track, though even here with the polyrhythms one can hear an influence of the climate and environment In My City was grown in.
I may have mentioned this out before, but having publishing material about Ralf Gum over the last 8 years or so, one of the most interesting things is how many reviewers on our staff have given his stuff a boost. And it’s not just that they’re different reviewers, but how different they are from each other. I can’t recall the last time half of my Soulful House staff have even poked at a techno record, or vice versa, but I think most of them have favorably judged a record from Ralf Gum.
The secret? In the end, Soulful House is going to pass or fail based upon songwriting – it’s a burden and an expectation that other genres of electronic music don’t have to acknowledge or measure up to. With In My City, Ralf Gum once again shoulders that burden and passes with flying colors.
Photo via Ralf Gum on Facebook