3.11.19 solange

Stars: 4/5

Solange Knowles returns to the public forefront with “When I Get Home,” a beautiful portrait of black excellence, hometown pride and musical zeal all blending together as one.

The fourth album by Solange and her first since 2017’s seminal “A Seat at the Table,” “When I Get Home” made its presence known abruptly through a sudden surprise release on March 1 — the transfer from Black History Month into Women’s History Month. Leave it to Solange to craft an album worthy of its release date, celebrating female empowerment and African-American culture with ease.

Although it seems that Solange is perpetually in the shadow of her older sister — for those of you that don’t know, that’s Beyoncé — she continues to push out content that tests the barriers of what R&B can be. And with “When I Get Home,” Solange creates her most ambitious, funky and flat-out soulful material that rivals her previous release and even “Lemonade" at times.

The album’s title is a yearning for return, a grand homecoming to some place that feels all too familiar. And for Solange, that place is the urban dreamland of Houston. It shows all throughout the work, as it sparkles with the chill laid-back vibe that is so prominent in Houston-based movements like “chopping and screwing” and enough bass to rattle trunks on I-45.

The hometown love is most prominent on “Almeda,” the track marked most significantly with the trademark Houston sound that sticks out in most music today, with trap-influenced percussion and slow, steady grooves. Capped with a feature by rapper Playboi Carti, “Almeda” is both a celebration of a city and the pride of being black, a centerpiece on the album.

And in a dark world, Solange continues to be the light and the beacon for optimism. One only needs to listen to “Dreams” once to get the notion that even in the worst of times, sticking to your morals and your ambitions in life will help everything be all right in the end.

“Sometimes I feel I'm going down, down / Sometimes I feel I'm gonna die at times,” Solange croons over a hazy wave of psychedelia.  “Got my dreams and my eyes wide.”

“A Seat at the Table” featured an extensive guest list, but “When I Get Home” hosts one of the most eclectic and exciting groups of artists in the business today. From the authority of Gucci Mane and Tyler, the Creator on “My Skin My Logo” to the vocal contributions by Dev Hynes and Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, there is a diverse skill set at work here.

The beauty of “When I Get Home” is how unabashedly it embraces the city of Houston and the obvious joy and pride it brings Solange. Most of the 19 tracks, including the cohesive interludes, are named after streets in Houston.  The large Texas city has a lot of culture within its limits, and Solange tapped into that resource with abundance to produce her fourth album.

At a lean 39 minutes, “When I Get Home” is an album that relaxes and nurtures. It’s a picture of a beautiful urban metropolis through the lens of a brilliant artist, and it’s pulled off with enough soul to make Prince and Stevie proud. Solange is coming home, and she’s taking us along for the joyous ride.

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