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A Beautifully Ugly Message to God

The title of Thelonious Monk's "Ugly Beauty" provides the best means of describing Dudley Perkins's artistry: Navigating between a shrill falsetto and a croaking tenor, Perkins often lands on notes that more surefooted crooners avoid. His sense of melody seems hazy at best, and his rhythmic gait can get shaky.

Nevertheless, Perkins possesses one of the most emotionally potent voices in R&B. When he unravels a narrative about spiritual wars or urban blight, his voice can be frighteningly bewitching. Case in point: "Dear God," from Expressions (2012 A.U.), on which he says a prayer to get through his darkest days. Seemingly clinging to his last thread of hope, Perkins prays for his family, then confesses to God about his addiction to marijuana.

Madlib"s hallucinogenic soundscapes convey Perkins' cannabis-induced enlightenment nicely, particularly when he sings, "I want to get high / So when the rain comes down I won"t feel a thing / Tell me how to get by, because I try and try to get things right." At that moment, "Dear God" ranks alongside Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone's sweet exorcisms, on which they tussled with their own demons, in the process separating the beauty from the bile.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.