Mint Condition

Let the church say “Amen”: Mint Condition is back. It’s been 6 years since their 1999 release, “Life’s Aquarium,” and the undisputed greatest R&B band of the past 15 years has returned with their fifth fantastic album, “Livin’ the Luxury Brown.”

Mint Condition includes Stokley Williams on vocals and drums, Ricky Kinchen on bass and lead guitar, Homer O’Dell on lead and rhythm guitar, Lawrence Waddell on keyboards, and Jeffrey Allen on saxophone and keyboards. During their hiatus, they went from six members to five with the exit of keyboardist Keri Lewis, continued to perform, and started their own record label, Cagedbird Records. They’ve emerged with new music that reflects their mastery as musicians and writers and their limitless creative freedom as independent artists.

As with every Mint record, the new material shows they’ve got a lot of different sounds brewing in their collective musical pot. The magnificent stew that is “Livin’ the Luxury Brown” starts with the funky soul the guys are so good at giving, and then leads into the love ballads that have made them famous. “My Sista” is a moving tribute to the women who raised and helped shape them. Some of the other soul highlights include “Look Whatchu Done 2 Me,” a smooth, steel drum-driven ode to the girl that got away, “Whoa,” a hot and sexy midtempo groove, and the first single, “I’m Ready,” a beautiful ballad from a man who’s ready for the altar and ain’t ashamed to say it. The guys revisit the subject of temptation covered in their earlier hit “What Kinda Man Would I Be?” with “Half an Hour” a cautionary tale about how little time it takes to lose what really matters.

And just when you think it’s going to be another great Mint record containing equal parts soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop, rock, and blues, the second half of the album swerves into a rock fest, with plenty of wailing guitars and pounding drums. Guitarist Ricky Kinchen takes turns with Stokley on lead vocals for two of the album’s best rock tracks, including “Runaway,” a heavy, pumping cut about the depths of addiction, and “One Wish,” a drum-driven “wish I never met you” song. These and the other rock-infused songs sound as good or better than anything you’d hear on a modern rock or college radio station. The music comes full circle at the end of the album, with the funky, uplifting anthem, “We Got Us.” It’s this kind of versatility and “music category be damned” attitude that makes “Livin’ the Luxury Brown” so good and so universally appealing. You could play it for your girlfriend who likes R&B ballads, your cousin who’s into rock, your nephew who’s a hip-hop head, or your Dad who’s a jazz lover, and they’d all find something on the record to love.

In addition to the five members being unbelievable musicians, much of what makes Mint Condition, Mint Condition, is Stokley Williams’ heavenly voice. Williams is more than just another high-voiced R&B crooner, he’s more like a force of nature. Proof of Williams’ vocal power is best displayed at Mint Condition’s live shows, where his soulful, spellbinding falsetto, combined with his endless energy, causes many a female fan to scream and swoon like a love struck teenager.

Williams spoke recently about Mint Condition’s new record, their move from major label to independent, and how he discovered his gifts as a singer and drummer.

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