I consider any musician with big enough malt balls to call himself Chocolate Genius to be worth checking out. Marc Anthony Thompson (a.k.a. Chocolate Genius) admits that he’s a sucker for a pun. Which brings us to his latest release, Black Music. The title has nothing to do with his skin color nor does it describe a musical genre. If anything, his sound is as white as Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Black Music refers to the dark, desolate nature of his songs (dark chocolate if you must). “If the songs were all fast, I’d probably call it Race Music,” he jokes.
And Chocolate Genius? To my dismay it’s neither a porn nom de plume nor nineties blaxploitation. Thompson calls Chocolate Genius a groove rather than a group. It’s a name shared by whomever is in the room while the music is being made. I suppose the guy who delivers pizza to the studio and the fly on the wall share in the Chocolate G. Popular New York City acidic jazz musicians John Medeski and Chris Wood dipped their talents into the chocolate as well.
Thompson’s songs, evoking the wry despair of Mark Eitzel, are hymns of urban grime. The pains of alcoholism, love and aging ring out like a confessional as his gruff voice looks for hope in hopelessness, for a savior in empty bottles.
Songs like “Hangover Five” and “Hangover Nine” fill a record that reeks of liquor and addiction. “Hangover Nine” is one of my favorites – a creepy groove thing that takes you into the mind of an alcoholic by way of Thompson’s disoriented spoken word. It’s loaded with broken promises, self-loathing and cool guitar effects.
I am emptier than yesterday’s raincoat
And I have been saved…if you don’t count last night
And yes I’ll have another one, I’ll have another one
YES, I’LL HAVE ANOTHER ONE, I’ll have another one
“Half a Man” is the money song. A rootsy ear-grabber. Think of The Wallflowers. Now, think of The Wallflowers slapped around, spit on, penniless and doused in really cheap beer.
Me, I’ll be fine
And save your breath
Stay away from mine
Track #12 (not listed on the CD) is “Half a Man” unplugged. The whispery acoustic version is so intimate you’ll feel like you’re imposing. It ranks high on the goosebump index. As does “My Mom,” a tragic song about a woman too old and senile to recognize her own son.
It’s been five years and some change
And this world is getting so strange
But this house smells just the same
And my mom, my sweet mom, she don’t remember my name.
This chocolate is sweet and worth a nibble.