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Album review | R&B

Bilal, ‘A Love Surreal’

This bracingly good disc marks the reemergence of one of the most overlooked R&B artists of the last decade. The Philadelphia singer-songwriter got lost in the early ’00s in the shadows of peers like D’Angelo and, while his expansive vocals have served many soul, jazz, and hip-hop collaborators recently, he hasn’t had the chance to shine. Until now. This sensual song suite about the ephemeral nature of love and what it takes to sustain happiness should end up among this year’s finest efforts. Bilal and his coproducers wisely strip away all electronics, let the grooves breathe, and allow his falsetto to bring the intimate lyrics to life. This is not a disc with big hooks and sledgehammer sentiments. The slice of funk, “West Side Girl,” and poppy “Back to Love” are deliciously sly. There are dazzling moments including the slow-build meditation on loss, “Slipping Away,” and “Butterfly,” a moving jazz exploration featuring pianist Robert Glasper. Compelling music that refuses to be denied.

ESSENTIAL “Slipping Away”

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