In the turbulent times we live in, there are few certainties we can rely on, except for the following: there will be death, and there will be taxes…..but we will never, ever, ever again experience the musical mastery of Prince Rogers Nelson. His signature artistry combined so many skill sets at so many levels that generations to come will still marvel at his virtuosity and verve. So while it’s expected that many performers are inspired by Prince, few of them would focus their talents into creating a project delivered as if channeled by the one-man cultural icon; but that’s what Morris Mills has accomplished with his latest full-length CD, Protégé.
An eclectic artist with Texas roots, Morris Mills created big buzz with his 2005 soul-funk debut, Love and Coffee. In-between studio works (“James’ Girl,” “Beautified”), Mills has since played alongside the likes of Leela James, Raphael Saadiq and Angie Stone, establishing himself as a promising presence in the ever-evolving genres of funk and soul. It’s precisely why the ambition level and production value of Protégé is so high; Mills doesn’t ‘imitate’ Prince as much as he incorporates his influence, vocally and instrumentally, into self-created tracks: “Waste of Time” recalls the whimsy of “Raspberry Beret” with the attitude of “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad,” “Bella” is as lush as “Scandalous” and “All I Wanna Do Is Love Ya” surges with the energy of “Beautiful Ones.” Only one song very nearly copies Prince note for note, the final track cover of “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”
Imperfect, yet engaging, even the most discriminating of Prince fans will find something to groove to: “Strawberry Hills” is as infectious as “Baby I’m a Star,” and “Let’s Do It Again” is as worshipful as the similarly-toned “Do Me Baby.” Morris Mills is one ardent fan of Prince’s catalog, but the most ‘recent’ stylings don’t seem to move much further than the 1990s—-“Sunshine and Rain” hearkening back to “Diamonds & Pearls,” for example.
Since the passing of Prince happened so recently and is still so raw for so many, Morris Mills deserves credit for endeavoring such a collection. If a lesser artist had conceived it, Protégé’s modeling could have descended into cheap mockery, its fervency turned into a farce. But Morris has the imagination and self-possession to pull it off, reminding listeners of what we lost in one entertainer while displaying his personal range of possibilities today. Recommended.
By Melody Charles