Six-String Soul: Miguel’s Guitar Music

Los Angeles native Miguel Jontel Pimental has been one of the most consistently excellent R&B artists of the 2010s, in part because he conjures the adventurous spirit and rock’n’roll edge of his hero, Prince. Now, Miguel (who started using the guitar as his primary songwriting tool while working on his 2012 sophomore effort, Kaleidoscope Dream) may not be a virtuoso soloist like Prince. But the driving riffs and soulful licks that populate Miguel’s later work have continued to reinforce the link between R&B and rock that few of his contemporaries explore.

While “Sky Walker,” the lead single to his fourth album, War & Leisure, returns him to a clubby hip-hop sound alongside Travis Scott, Miguel embraced aggressive guitar riffs with another recent single, “Shockandawe.” And guitars have figured prominently in much of his recent work throughout 2017, including the DJ Premier collaboration “2 LOVIN U” and his contribution to the soundtrack for the animated film Coco.

With his voracious appetite for different sounds, Miguel has collaborated in the studio with some very famous guitarists, appearing on Santana’s 2014 release, Corazón, and featured guitar work from Lenny Kravitz and Raphael Saadiq on his own 2015 album, Wildheart. And that album’s single “Waves” was remixed and re-recorded by several artists, including country singer Kacey Musgraves and indie kingpins Tame Impala.

Session players like Paul Pesco have contributed brighter guitar sounds to songs like “Do You…” and Miguel’s longtime sideman Dru DeCaro has added intricate licks to album tracks as well as live performances of his hits “Adorn” and “Sure Thing.” Miguel’s taste in guitar tones tends towards the lo-fi, from the amp buzz of his Mariah Carey collaboration “#Beautiful” to the low muddy tone of “Coffee.” And it’s that idiosyncratic embrace of the instrument, and the many sounds it’s capable of, that have made Miguel an unlikely major figure in the future of both R&B and guitar music.