“Redbone” was a sleeper hit for Childish Gambino, the musical alias of Atlanta star Donald Glover. Released in 2016, the slow-crawling, high-flying funk throwback bubbled in the Billboard charts for months before it was placed at the beginning of Get Out, became Glover’s first Top 20 single, and won a Grammy in 2018. (And yeah, birthed a meme.)
On his new cover version, though, Durham’s Tre. Charles clears away all of the baggage and context, including the original’s debts to Prince and Marvin Gaye, to restate the song’s elemental principles in the same style of relaxed yet transfixing electric soul that so impressed us in his debut single (“Stressin.”) earlier this year.
In the video, which was filmed at the Raleigh Amtrak station near The Dillon, Charles stands alone in an empty plaza. As great glass buildings wheel around him, he coaxes the teeming original arrangement by Ludwig Göransson from the semi-hollow body of one D’Angelico electric guitar, plucking all of that mellotron and clavinet and Fender Rhodes out of barre chords with sure fingers bearing chunky rings.
If the original was tugged between lust and longing, Charles’s version shimmers off into the latter. The guitar intervals seem to measure out the finely graded distances of intimacy, and the lyrics unfold with melancholy patience. Get Out highlighted the original song’s injunctions to “stay woke,” a term that has been gathering its charge ever since. Charles allows himself a few judicious runs to unravel the words, but it says much about his overriding distinct stamp that he makes them sound personal and freshly felt in 2021.
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