Har Mar Superstar

Har Mar Superstar (Kill Rock Stars); Sean Na Na,Dance Until Your Baby Is a Man (Troubleman Unlimited)

Never let it be said that St. Paul, Minnesota, ain't got no soul. If there's any doubt as to whether the R&B underground is thriving in the northern climes, the brothers Tillman have stepped up to correct your ass. Harold Martin Tillman, a.k.a. Har Mar Superstar, and older bro Sean Tillman, a.k.a. Sean Na Na, are redefining white-boy soul, though in completely different ways.

Har Mar's album borders on parody, and would be exactly that if it weren't for the preponderance of genuinely inventive beats on this self-titled record. Kicking off with "Baby, Do You Like My Clothes," Har Mar proves himself capable with hard rhymes, and he doesn't hold back when it comes to fashion sense -- the chorus flows, "Baby, do you like my clothes?/Cuz I sure don't like yours/Unless they're down on the floor, with your body next to me baby."

"I Admit" recalls TLC's "Waterfalls," a duet of battling lovers exchanging lines like "I admit I skipped my pill last month, so I could secretly steal Har Mar's firstborn son/I admit I didn't trust you, that's why I went ahead and snipped those tubes -- a vasectomy!/Ain't no babies comin' out of me."

This is easily the dance record of the summer, a wit-filled evolution of R&B. Although it seems improbable (especially given his publicity photo) Har Mar, or "Nasty Har Mar," as he refers to himself on "Let Me Use Your Ride," has the vocal power, soul or range to rival Boyz II Men, but he's infinitely more entertaining.

While the Har Mar disc is largely -- actually entirely -- humor-driven (whether intentional or not), the senior Tillman approaches his subject matter quite seriously. It's Stevie Wonder-ish hate-rock, impassioned diatribes with blind man's soul. Dance Until Your Baby Is a Man is part indie muse, part bitter soul music, with Tillman's honeyed croon frequently playing counterpoint to the vitriolic subject matter that permeates the songs.

The spirit of the record is best embodied on "Gray Clouds," where Sean Na Na obliterates his victim with the following: "You have enough ego for a thousand people/I'll see you in hell/If my foot should stumble to the small of your back I'd kick you down the stairs/I'll wish I'd grabbed your hair as every bone's crack inspires new laughs/I'll dance on your grave." Yet it's all delivered in the earnest tone of an old R&B love song.

The album has some inspiring anthemic moments as well, like the chorus of "The Bottom" ("Come away with me/I've already quit that job/We'll finish off the bottle, and the agaves too/Take a look around/Everybody is as sad as you") and "Mezcal," where he sings, "Mez-mez-mezcal makes me crazy, and serves as a conversation catalyst."

Sean Na Na's instrumentation oscillates between indie-rocking numbers and subdued keyboard dirges, mostly serving as a showcase for his impassioned vocalizing. It's a gift that the Tillman brothers both share, and we in return are blessed with the fruits of the family's talents.

 
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