Allow them to reintroduce themselves: They are Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, two powerhouse musical polymaths whose faces and fingerprints are all over the past decade of pop, hip-hop and R&B. But as of today, you can officially call them by the name on the cover of their collaborative debut, An Evening with Silk Sonic.
From the first whispery crescendo of "Leave the Door Open," the single that announced Silk Sonic's existence back in March, listeners knew the new band's music would be transporting. To be clear, though, neither of these masters of throwback has ever treated their inspirations as a secret. Whether behind the mic or the drum kit (often both at once), .Paak writes and performs with an easy fluency in both '60s and '70s funk and soul sides and the '90s rap records that sampled them, the combined effect evoking a swirling timelessness. And you can roughly track the phases of Mars' superstar ascent by how he's dressed for his countless awards-show performances: Cross Colours for new jack swing, shoulder pads for Minneapolis-sound pastiche, cocky cosplay for Little Richard and Prince tributes. Their joyous cribbing hasn't gone without scrutiny, but it has always been an open book.
An Evening with Silk Sonic glories in the sounds of Black pop's imperial era, when disco dominated dance floors, funk tore up arenas and slow jams soundtracked intimate moments around the world. The duo invokes so much archival music, pulling from the most sensual ballads and sunniest dance hits of the late 20th century — which means that if you're feeling the vibe, there's plenty more where it came from. Here are five vintage gems listeners might enjoy after walking through the door this album opens.
If you love "Skate"
Try "Strollin' " by Prince and the New Power Generation. Songs that celebrate roller skating must communicate the showy panache and joyful grace of that experience. Silk Sonic does so with swirly strings and throaty vocals that recall the psychedelic-era Temptations. On this highlight from his overlooked early '90s classic Diamonds and Pearls, Prince takes a totally different approach, crafting a finger-snapping jazz romp that's more smooth than funky. What the two songs share is a buoyancy that instantly puts the listener on a city promenade on a summer day, laces tight, ice cream cone in hand. —Ann Powers
If you love "Fly Like Me"
Try "Superfly" by Curtis Mayfield. They may be the two corniest dudes you know, but Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak obviously got drip, especially when fused as an R&B superteam. That said, the duo's got nothing on the original Fly Guy. While fly qualifiers have evolved in the past 50 years — Mayfield's innate hungry hustle versus Silk Sonic's materialistic pickup-line fodder — both tracks lean on explosive drums and lush flourishes to drive home the braggadocio of each respective main character. (See also: "Pusherman.") —LaTesha Harris
If you love "Blast Off"
Try "Can't Hide Love" by Earth, Wind & Fire, because it fits like a glove. My DJ brain flipped into overdrive about midway through the song: It feels like the jam was fueled by Philip Bailey and the spirit of Maurice White. The midtempo two-step groove and climactic harmony make both songs cookout ready — so if you hear me on the turntables and I play one, there's no need to guess what's next. —Bobby Carter (aka DJ Cuzzin B)
If you love "Leave the Door Open"
Try "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green. With scrumptious horns, soft, tickling strings and some rich-as-molasses vocal delivery, these two tracks are cut from the same swatch of the most exclusive cashmere. Of course, with Green being the unequivocal sultan of sex appeal, his lyrics are free of bawdy punchlines: He gets straight to the point, delivering on all the promises that Bruno and Andy beckon with. Bouncy, brooding and even more slick, "Let's Stay Together" is the timeless classic to greet your honey with once they've turned up at your opened door. Dim the lights, pour the nightcap and consider the ante officially upped. —Sidney Madden
If you love "Smokin' Out the Window"
Try "Willin' to Learn" by Tower of Power, as heard on the 1999 live album Soul Vaccination. It's a classic, drop-to-your-knees soul ballad from one of the best soul-ballad bands of all time, and this live version is an old-school vein cutter. I hear so many echoes of TOP in Silk Sonic, and judging by what a hit the duo's videos have been with my Chicano boomer Facebook pals, I'm not alone. —Felix Contreras