- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

You won’t catch Robin Thicke on the big screen alongside Samuel L. Jackson or Bruce Willis any time soon. And you won’t see him bathed in laser lights while he moonwalks through a gaggle of backup dancers. Oh, and don’t bother looking in the tabloids; he’s probably not there, either.

Where you will find Mr. Thicke, however, is in the No. 5 slot on the Billboard 200 — one spot above his flashy blue-eyed soul compatriot, Justin Timberlake.

Rather than gloat, however, the low-key Mr. Thicke would rather discuss how different the artists’ styles are and how, obviously, there is room for both in the industry and on listeners’ shelves.

“[Justin] is going up there to entertain,” he says. “For me, every word in my songs is my life.” If you’ve heard “The Evolution of Robin Thicke” (his latest disc), then you already know how intimate Mr. Thicke’s words can be. Of course the record offers a few club cuts and late-night love jams (perhaps inspired by his wife, actress Paula Patton), but its foundation is breezy R&B tracks and lingering ballads that lyrically resemble diary entries. Take, for example, “Ask Myself,” which details a man’s desire to “be somebody,” or “Can U Believe,” which sympathizes with self-doubters.

“It really became an album about feeling like you’re by yourself,”says the self-taught pianist — a feeling he’s known all too well in his artistic journey.

The son of “Growing Pains’” Alan Thicke and singer-actress Gloria Loring, he landed his first record deal at the age of 16.

After he wrote what he thought would be his first album, he was told it wasn’t good enough. “So I stole away,” he says.

He began funneling his songwriting and producing expertise into works for bigger fish like Brandy and Mya, and finally saw the release of his solo debut, “Cherry Blue Skies” (later reissued as “A Beautiful World”), in 2002.

“When … it didn’t become commercially successful, all my fears had been realized,” he says.

Following what the artist calls “a Mariah Carey-type breakdown,” he eventually returned to his piano and found a valuable supporter in one of his fans: super-producer and Star Trak records impresario Pharrell Williams, who added him to the Star Trak roster and got Mr. Thicke back into the studio to record the slick hit single “Wanna Love U Girl.” This was the beginning of “The Evolution of Robin Thicke.”

The singer fought the specter of failure that plagued him in the month’s preceding the album’s continually delayed release by pouring his anxieties and insecurities into additional songs. Given the success that followed the disc’s late 2006 release, it’s safe to say his tunes struck a chord with listeners.

“Every day I hear a new milestone,” Mr. Thicke says.

The artist celebrated his 30th birthday this month, a number that others might curse. “But for me,” he says, “I think of it as the great peak and culmination of my work.” Mr. Thicke hits Towson’s Recher Theater (www.rechertheatre.com) tomorrow night at 8.

Jenny Mayo

Latin sounds

A lot has happened since 2003, the last time lead singer Andrea Echeverri and her Colombian rock band Aterciopelados came to the Washington area. She took time off to be with her newborn daughter, had a stellar debut solo album and is now back touring the U.S. to promote “Oye,” the group’s critically acclaimed new LP.

She still fondly remembers the night at the Kennedy Center’s packed Millennium Stage when the Latin Grammy winners (who have sold out numerous major venues throughout Latin America and Europe) performed free for several thousand lucky fans.

“They were incredibly warm,” Miss Echeverri said earlier this month in soft-spoken English during a phone interview from her home in Bogota. “A Puerto Rican couple invited me to their cafe,” she recalls, adding that she still thinks about the funky crowd and all the “amazing hairstyles” in the audience.

This is the sort of fuzzy, happy vibe that Aterciopelados (Spanish for Velvety Ones) has been putting out for years. Their music has gone from electronica to funk, to pop, to more traditional rock and roll. Through it all, the band has managed to blend traditional Latin rhythms such as bossa nova, vallenato, sambuco, cumbia and salsa while singing on range of topics from violence and corruption in Miss Echeverri’s homeland to abusive relationships.

In the new album, she speaks about the “hypersexualization” of society in “Oye Mujer” (“Hey girl”), a song that makes women “forget how powerful and beautiful we really are.”

There are several songs with lighter moods in the new album as well. “Complemento” (“You complement me”), for example, is an upbeat love ballad about her husband, with a catchy hook and melodic use of South American panpipes.

“La Pipa de La Paz” (“The Pipe of Peace”) the hit song from their 1996 debut album “El Dorado” features panpipes, heavy percussion and deep, sultry vocals from Miss Echeverri, who talks about people doing the rain dance in a paradisiacal setting while passing along a peace pipe — a perfect example of her sometimes spacey persona.

Aterciopelados performs Monday at the State Theatre, 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church (https://www.thestatetheatre.com) with D.C. Latin rock group Stone Gato as the opening act. Doors open at 7 p.m., with showtime at 8:30 p.m.

— Alfredo Flores

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