Rhodes Scholars


Here’s to more songs using the Fender Rhodes—that archaic electronic keyboard that’s sorta like an organ, but with tones so effervescent, buoyant, and luminous it took Miles Davis’s ’70s albums into some intergalactic, extraterrestrial territory, and also played a hand in creating Stevie Wonder’s potent Innervisions. Retro-futuristic, the Rhodes is all the rage lately in neo-soul and soulful house.

4Hero feat. Bembe Segue and Kaidi Taitham

“Something in the Way”

FromPlay With the Changes (Milan)

Dudes from London made this track—employing just a vocalist (Bembe Segue), a Rhodes (via Kaidi Taitham), and a drum machine (4Hero’s Dego sure knows his way around beatboxes or Pro Tools or whatever the heck they’re using these days)—sound like damn near 20 people. You don’t hear many dance tracks this fast anymore, but this brisk, jazzy tune has a marching band drum line and djembe rhythms thrown atop to make for some vintage-sounding George Duke shit. 4Hero’s MySpace headline: “Soul has many forms.”

Jill Scott feat. Sergio Mendes and

“Let Me”

From Collaborations (Hidden Beach)

Originally on Mendes’s Timeless project, what just about ruins this quaint little bossa nova is there’s hardly any Jill and way too much Will. Attention When you’ve got the Brazilian maestro Sergio Mendes on Rhodes, you’ve got to do a little more than just throw a flimsy “Funky Drummer” sample on top, bro. This drum programming sucks. But because it’s Sergio (and Jill), it somehow sticks, even though it sounds a little like Jill learned this tune the night before, or perhaps right on the spot.

Elisabeth Withers

“Be With You”

From It Can Happen to Anyone (Blue Note)

Withers’s birth name is Mendes; no relation to Sergio, I guess. She’s made her name playing the part of Shug Avery on Broadway—you know that play about a color close to lavender produced by the big O? It Can Happen to Anyone lists “piano” in the liners, but no piano sounds like that. It’s a Rhodes. (May as well have just put “keys.”) But this is ’80s Rhodes stuff, not ’70s—there’s a diff. Withers is channeling ’80s Gladys Knight here, especially when she groans, “Tonight I’m gonna be every woman in your fantasyyyyy.” But then Withers whispers, in her naughty late-night phone-sexxx voice, “You like that?” which is something Gladys would never do. Well, you see, soul has many forms.