Fantastic Negrito has an incredible, inspiring backstory but it would be a shame to unwittingly allow it to overshadow the issue at hand, the truly fantastic blend of blues, funk, rock and R&B created on "Please Don't Be Dead" by the man born Xavier Dphrepaulezz.
As Negrito's songs feed on his personal experiences, you should at least know that he grew up with 13 siblings in a Muslim family which moved from Massachusetts to Oakland when he was 12, around 1980. He released an album ("The X Factor") as Xavier in 1996 but a debilitating car crash in 1999 — the theme of this album's cover — contributed to a prolonged interval. The debut of this new career phase was the 2014 EP "Fantastic Negrito" and "The Last Days of Oakland," which won the Grammy for best contemporary blues album last year. "Please Don't Be Dead" pulverizes any fears of the dreaded sophomore slump.
If album opener "Plastic Hamburgers" sounds like a Chris Cornell/Lenny Kravitz mashup, "Dark Windows" is a heartfelt tribute to the former, whom Negrito toured with extensively. "A Boy Named Andrew" alternates a Middle Eastern-sounding motif with R&B, while "Transgender Biscuits" has Tom Waits-like bullhorn vocals as well as a small oasis of pop sounds. "Bad Guy Necessity" sounds like Al Green as the Hulk, all hurt bravado and aggression.
"The Suit That Won't Come Off" and "A Cold November Street" are the most traditionally bluesy tracks, though each has twists. "Never Give Up" is brief and Prince-like, with a choir of overdubbed Negritos and "Bull---- Anthem" is deep funk with multiple personalities.
Negrito puts himself in the middle of the fray with "Please Don't Be Dead" — such a contemporary title — and offers his songs for the soundtrack of the lives of those who won't give up and are willing to carry on.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Negrito's car crash took place in 1999, not 2000.Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.