Moby Takes One Step Back and Two Steps Forward

Moby - Play
(V2 Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

It may seem odd for an artist who is known for innovations in the world of techno-punk, electronica, ambient and house music to thank "all the archivists and music historians whose field recordings made this record possible" in his liner notes. But those dusty old recordings of unsung blues and roots musicians that historians preserved earlier this century are exactly what makes Moby's latest album Play so appealing.
Since his 1995 rave classic Everything Is Wrong, New York native Moby (aka Richard Hall - he donned his moniker from the classic 'Moby Dick", Hall being a direct descendent of the book's author Herman Melville) has been at the forefront of the modern electronica scene, scoring music for films as well as being one of the most in-demand remixers in music today, turning original versions of songs from the likes of Madonna, David Bowie, Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica inside out with his fresh, if not absurd, ideas on what music should sound like.
On Play Moby has delivered what is probably his most accessible piece to date. On the songs that Moby handles the vocal duties, such as the funky Afro-vibe of "South Side", the laid-back bass-driven "If Things Were Perfect" and the ambient ramblings of "The Sky Is Broken", he delivers his words in a deadpan David Byrne reading style. Although the ambient influences of his past, spurred on by ambient music's forefather Brian Eno, can still be heard on the swelling, serene grandeur of "My Weakness" as well "Inside" with it's heartbeat rhythm and sound of cerebral fluids pumping, it's the pieces in which he unearths the music from this country's past and forges it into something new with modern technology that are the most intriguing.
Utilizing old recordings from the archives of music historians and field recorders Alan and John Lomax, Moby has taken the heart and soul of the blues and slapped it smack-dab in the middle of an all-night rave party. "Honey" blends the earthy blues vocals of Bessie Jones with a funky wah-wah guitar and "Find My Baby" marries the unlikely gritty whoops and growls of Boy Blue with a skittish hip-hop beat and artery-clogging bassline. "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" features the soulful recordings of the Shining Light Gospel Choir over radio-friendly rock enlightened by a graceful piano, while the Lomax's recording of southern blues singer Vera Hall drips through the club beats and synthetic orchestration on "Natural Blues".
With his innovative and intelligent approach to modern music, Moby realizes that in order to go forward you sometimes have to look back into the past.

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