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BEST R&B ARTIST Minneapolis 2005 - Mint Condition

Readers' Choice: Prince

Despite their hit singles and high-profile admirers, Mint Condition have never quite gotten the respect they deserve, so it's nice that they're giving us another chance to show the love. After a six-year break, the group has a new album, Livin' the Luxury Brown, and a new label, their own Cagedbird Records. Keyboardist Keri Lewis has moved on, but the rest of the long-lived, self-contained band is intact, as is their jazz-and-rock-tinged R&B. The new album's "Look Whatcha Done to Me" provides a good sample of the group's gifts as players, writers, singers, and quietly experimental producers. For the full effect, listen under headphones to how the song's handclap hook bounces from the left channel to the right and back again. Then take in the delay effect on the lush harmony vocals, the spare bass line, the artfully placed Al Green sample, the sunny steel-drum sound that brightens the pretty eighth-note chords, and, of course, Stokley Williams's gritty lead vocal. In addition to touring in support of Livin', the band plans to use the Cagedbird imprint to sign new acts and possibly to release an album by JOTO, the Latin jazz side-project featuring Williams and keyboardist/saxophonist Jeff Allen.

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