Devon Gilfillian ‘What’s Going On’ LP (Capitol) 5/5

What more can be said about Marvin’s immortal 1971 album? It changed the Motown sound forever and became the inspiration for black social commentary allied to music, the ’70s became a hotbed for the trials and tribulations of the black man’s life. Marvin opened the door and hundreds stepped through it, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, James Brown and so on. The album inspired so many other artists to change their own direction, it truly was an epic time to be a collector of black music.

And so to 2021. Devon Gilfillian has recreated the album adding his own style and creating duets with some fine singers and with deft touches of brilliance created another masterpiece for the modern era, we can’t keep on banging the drum about how great things were back in the day, young people are bored with our generation preaching to them, however, if they find this album and are able to live with it then it might just lead some of them back to the icons of yesterday; it might well be the gateway album we have been waiting for. All the proceeds are going to The Equity Alliance so that’s another reason to dig deep. Devon grew up in Philadelphia listening to a vast array of music drawing influences from R & B, Hip Hop, Rock, Blues and of course Soul music, his father was a musician and he was drawn to the icons of his father’s era; Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and The Temptations. He was also very aware of what was happening around him, the Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye West, The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay Z all inspired him. He has had several releases, all of which were met with positive praise and indeed his new album “Black Hole Rainbow” has recently hit the streets.

The musical experience on this is outstanding, created by a roster of fine musicians the list of which is vast. The guest singers are Jasmine Cephas Jones, Ruby Amanfu, Joy Oladokun, Jamila Woods, Jason Eskridge, Kyshona Armstrong, Nickie Conley, DAVIE, A.J. Haynes (Seratones) and Emoni Wilkins. There are some woodwind instruments on here too!

I keep going back to the simply stunning “Wholy Holy”, Devon is joined by A.J. Haynes and Emani Wilkins, from the first play I was hooked, it’s sufficiently different to stand on its own two feet and given exposure. I could well see this getting soul radio plays in the UK. Emani excels, who is blessed with a quite superb voice. “Right On” has also hit the mark too, treading a tight groove with some deft changes in pitch. The iconic title track hasn’t changed that much but what has been created is special, joined by Jasmine Cephas Jones and is simply superb, it’s a great song anyway but the inclusion of Jasmine adds another dimension. Coming from a child protection background I’ve always had a soft spot for “Save the Children” and it hits the spot here, how sad that Marvin sang about the plight of children in 1971 and Devon is at it again in 2021, not much has changed in this sad world has it? As relevant today as it has ever been. “God Is Love” is also a cracker with Kyshona Armstrong hitting the right notes. The two tracks that are not duets are “Mercy, Mercy Me” and “Inner City Blues” both of which have Devon out front and both tread similar paths to their original counterparts.

The more I play this album the more differences I become aware of, it’s not a one-trick pony this, it’s a very subtle interpretation of an all-time great and I’m happy to have it on the deck and on the shelves.

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered in Nashville TN and can be purchased directly from Devon’s website.

Brian Goucher