If you ask any music fan that was around to experience it, they'll tell you that 1995 was one of the most magical years in music of the past twenty years. Hip-Hop and R&B had yet to fully take a stronghold over the top portion of the Billboard charts, but their presence was more than felt with a succession of hit records coexisting with those from the pop and rock sectors.
Another sign of the time was the plethora of singing groups that flushed the R&B scene, which resulted in timeless music. Among them was the singing and production duo Groove Theory who played a big part in helping expand the sound of R&B.
Comprised of producer Bryce Wilson and vocalist Amel Larrieux (then known as Eliza Stowell), the group was formed in 1993 after Wilson, a former member of the hip-hop group Mantronix, met Larrieux at Rondor Music in New York while in pursuit of a vocalist to work with. Deciding to team and cut demos together in pursuit of a deal, their alliance paid dividends when they caught the attention of Epic Records.
The label originally signed Groove Theory to a demo deal in 1993, but added them to their artists roster after the group's songs were getting placed on movie soundtracks, which set the stage for the release of their eponymous debut album.
Released on Oct. 24, 1995, Groove Theory's self-titled project failed to make any major noise on the Billboard 200 album chart, only peaking at No. 69. However, the LP would spawn three R&B hits, including their most noteworthy song, "Tell Me."
The collection would go on to be considered one of the definitive bodies of work from the '90s and served as a precursor to the neo-soul movement that would emerge just a few years later.
On the 20th anniversary of Groove Theory's classic album, we selected the five best songs from the LP for your listening pleasure. Check them out below.
Most R&B albums start off on a pleasant note, but Groove Theory kicks the album off with the emotional track, "10 Minute High." Vocalist Amel Larrieux details a vivid tale of a young woman from a broken home that takes to the streets and becomes a drug addict. "Eyes that witnessed her father beat on her mother / Witnessed the system take away her only brother / No one ever said that they loved her / She used to close her eyes to make pain subside, but now she's got a 10-minute high," she compassionately sings. Groove Theory delivers a cautionary tale that shows the group is not afraid to tackle socially- conscious subject matter.
"Keep Tryin'" features Larrieux giving listeners a dose of inspiration with her motivational lyrics of perseverance and triumph. Speaking to those that live seeing the glass as half-full, Larrieux reminds them of their blessings, singing "You've been missing / Out on all the chances you've been given is it something within All day you instead of living" over Bryce Wilson's airy production. Crooning "Your day is coming though it seems far / Things will be clear when you love who you are / Nothing can stop you as long as as you listen to your heart" and reminding us to always see things through, the young songbird turns in another stellar vocal performance on the album.
Groove Theory comes with the heat on "Come Home," an enticing song that features hard-hitting drums and Larrieux's soulful vocals. Bryce Wilson cooks up a straight-forward soundbed that is one of the finest beats on the album and hard enough for a rapper to spit rhymes on. Lyrics like "You were born into a cold world / With only the angels on your side / And they whisper 'you must stay golden / Don't let nothing blind your eyes'" speak to all of the people lost in the street life. In the end, Larrieux tells her boo that the streets won't love him like she does and urges him to come home. Groove Theory matches edgy content with quality production and manage to outdo themselves yet again.
Groove Theory get sensuous on "Ride," a standout track on their debut album that is equal parts boom-bap, sleek grooves and coy songwriting. Larrieux is in her zone as she ponders on going for a little sexual cruise with her lover. "I've been here a long time seeing the same kinda things go on over and over / What I got on my mind, it won't really take too long / So tell me if you're open," she sings. With Wilson employing pounding drums, keys and heavenly synths, the song is nothing short of superb.
Groove Theory made an indelible impression on the music world when their debut single, "Tell Me," hit the airwaves in 1995. Co-written by Wilson and Larrieux, the song wastes little time getting in the groove, excuse the pun, as Larrieux tackles her opening verse with vigor. "I've been doing my own thing / Love has always had a way of having bad timing / But to my great surprise, ever since I looked in your eyes / I had one question for you," she sings. Wilson's soulful production boasts a sample of Mary Jane Girls' 1983 single, "All Night Long."
But the true highlight of the song is its unforgettable hook, "Tell me if you want me too / Give you all my time, I wanna make it good for you 'cause you blow my mind / Now promise boy that I'll be true / You're the perfect fine so tell me if you want me too." Larrieux turns in what many would argue is the performance of her career making "Tell Me" a true soul gem of the late '90s.
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