If you were ever sucked into the Prince vortex, as I was in 1984, you quickly found yourself seeking out every last morsel of musical goodness from anything Prince-related. In the mid-80’s, that meant marching into your local record store and snapping up albums by The Time, Apollonia 6, Vanity 6, The Family, and Sheila E. There were also those who had bid the Prince camp farewell, most notably at that point: Time members Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Morris Day, and Jesse Johnson. And once you went digging back into Prince’s earliest years, you discovered his original bass player and childhood friend André Cymone.
André left the band in 1981 after the Dirty Mind tour had wrapped, and Prince was moving on to his next album, Controversy. André signed with Columbia and released three albums over the next four years: Livin’ In The New Wave (1982), Survivin’ In The 80’s (1983), and A.C. (1985). His biggest hit came from A.C., the Prince penned and co-produced “The Dance Electric.”
André then moved on to producing artists like Jermaine Stewart, Adam Ant, and Jody Watley, to whom he was briefly married (Jody’s “Still a Thrill” is one of my favorite 80’s R&B tracks).
And then, André dropped off the grid, leaving the business and focusing instead on raising his children. The music bug never left him (how could it?), and after some poking and prodding by his kids over the last several years, it was time to hit the studio again. He popped up in 2012, releasing a tune called “America,” with all proceeds going to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. He followed that up with “Trayvon” in 2013, in tribute to Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Now, 29 years after his last album, it’s great to say that André Cymone is truly back. The Stone, Andre’s independently funded and distributed album (via PledgeMusic), was officially released on February 18th.
My first impression on hearing “Rock and Roll,” the album’s opening track, was the swagger and confidence it carries. You’d never guess that this was an artist who just returned from a nearly three decade hiatus – that is unless André addressed it right off the bat, which he does: “You waited long enough / now it’s time to play my game / Before you leave here baby / you gonna know my name.”
In the early 80’s, André’s solo albums were steeped in a funk-pop-new wave hybrid. The 21st century André, with the help of some quality backing players, has a more straight ahead rock and pop feel. There are strong uptempo rock numbers, from “Rock and Roll,” “Let Your Sunshine,” and “Radio,” to “Naked,” the 60’s brit-pop of “If Not For You,” and one of the strongest tracks, the album closer “Live Life,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lenny Kravitz album.
Things get interesting when André unplugs midway through the album with the folk/pop of “It’s Alright” and the introspective acoustic “One Day.”
“It’s Alright” has an upbeat, summery feel – a catchy melody with a folky brush-shuffle tempo.
“One Day” is, to these ears, a thinly veiled letter to his old friend Prince. With lines like “We were close like a hand in glove / shared the bond of a brother’s love / Now we don’t have a word to say,” “Struck it rich, we were on our way,” “Had to leave I could not stay”… it’s pretty clear that André is reconciling this long standing broken relationship. I don’t know André personally, but I feel his humanity and his genuine compassion in this song and throughout the album.
I also don’t know Prince personally, but I’ll offer an outsider’s opinion: Prince seems to concern himself with two things: the here and the now. Those in Prince’s circle are valued and worked to the core. But when the expiration date comes, and his interests have moved on to other things (and people), he seems to cast them aside with a clinical and unemotional ease, and he never looks back. Talented and much admired musicians – even old friends like André – are left in his wake. Perhaps I’m reading too much into “One Day,” but that’s what I get out of it.
What thrills me as a long time fan of Prince, and all of the associated artists that spun off from him in those early years, is seeing someone like André Cymone reemerge all these years later and display that same badass quality, that same swagger, showing that he hasn’t missed a step. But it’s also great to bear witness to the music of a caring, down to earth human being who shares in the same life struggles, joys and adventures that we all do – all in a very grass roots and organic way.
The Stone is a solid and impressive return to the game, and yes – a treat to all of us sucked into that Prince vortex so many years ago. Welcome back, André. A lot of us were waiting and wondering, and we’re glad you’re back.
♠ Buy The Stone on Amazon.
♦ Buy The Stone on iTunes.
♥ André will be heading out on tour soon. If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, check him out at First Avenue on March 16th.