Omar Best By Far

Over the past decade, UK artist Omar has cultivated an impressive peer following and critical acclaim with his increasingly idiosyncratic mélange of soul, jazz and funk, all while being relatively unknown by the public at large, especially in light of the success of artists inspired by him. Back in 1990, Omar released the cocktail ballad “There’s Nothing Like This,” the title track of his self-produced debut, and the buzz on him eventually reached the ears of Gilles Peterson, who re-released the album on his then embryonic Talkin’ Loud label. While the stellar follow-up, Music, didn’t register as well at home, it garnered fans like Stevie Wonder and allowed him to snag the services of legendary songwriters and producers like Leon Ware and Lamont Dozier for his third effort, For Pleasure. By now, Omar had left Talkin’ Loud for an ill-fated deal with RCA, who also dropped the ball on his fourth album This Is Not A Love Song. It’s a testament to the artist’s perseverance that Best By Far, while lacking the classic knockout singles of his past, has an even more sophisticated mood and tone than previous releases, and with every listen it makes its pitch as his tautest outing yet. Along with his distinctive honeyed vocals, multi-instrumentalist undertakings and meticulous string arrangements, there’s an assurance and refinement to his distinctive formula, accentuated by the added soothing elements to his music on this disc. Indeed, you get the feeling Omar was slumped in front of the couch watching classic movies before hitting the studio, given the nods to John Barry and Lalo Schifrin on this disc. The lounge-y vibe works best on the beguiling “Sylveste” and the Latin-tinged “Essensual,” but the noodling dub of the title track and the funky stomp of “Something Real” reaffirms Omar’s eclectic range. And while Angie Stone appears on the cover of William De Vaughn’s “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got,” it’s worth noting outside of North America that this track features Erykah Badu, who incessantly raved about Omar during her own emergence. Underlining his role as an unwitting low-profile mentor, it’s a fitting scenario the increased recognition comes while he is still evolving and arguably producing some of his most vital music to date. (Oyster)