Personnel: Christa Grix (harp); Velda Kelly, Marla Smith, Andrew Wu, James Greer , Dan Stychyra, Joe Deller (violin); John Madison, Scott Stefanko, Leslie Deshazor, Leah Lucas Cebeli (viola); Sarah Cleveland, David Ladoux (cello).
Audio Mixer: Daz-I-Kue.
Photographer: Ahmad Barber.
After the 2011 release of The Bitter Suite, Carmen Rodgers vitalized recordings by Darryl Reeves, R-Swift, Zo!, and the Foreign Exchange. She also performed with the latter touring two and put this together. The Atlanta-based singer and songwriter's third album was recorded and mixed in seven studios in three states, made with a lengthy list of fellow producers and musicians, yet it's remarkably unified, her most appealing release. The scope of sounds and emotions is nonetheless rather wide, with warmth and positivity as constants through Rodgers' tales of longing stoically, finding love when it wasn't expected, working through conflict, and beaming through romantic contentment. From production to production, one could detect a string of likenesses to Sa-Ra ("Make a Way"), the Neptunes ("Heartless"), '70s Stevie Wonder ("Camille Leon"), and a crop of sophisticated early-'80s funk acts ("Beyond the Stage"), among others, but Rodgers leaves her own mark every time. Vocally, she's joined only by Anthony David, with whom she duetted on Zo!'s "Show Me the Way." A.D. drops in for "Charge," a euphoric, mostly acoustic ballad. The strings of that song were arranged by Pirahnahead, whose work with over a dozen musicians also deepens the impact of "Stay" and "Love Stories," consecutive, grand knockouts delivered toward the end. While Rodgers' previous releases are easily recommendable to those who have an interest in that mature form of modern R&B that has been marginalized by commercial radio, Stargazer is on another level. It's a distinctive, fully formed work -- one of the most enjoyable mid-2010s R&B albums. ~ Andy Kellman