Prince was one of the most prolific major artists in recent history, and as he assumed control over the rights to his music in the last 20 years of his life, his discography became a dense thicket of one-off releases, ranging from major label albums to Internet-only singles to albums given away with concert tickets or even newspapers. (And that’s not even including his hundreds if not thousands of unreleased recordings.) The situation is so complex that sources say the Universal Music Group, which in February procured licensing rights to much of Prince’s catalog in a $30 million pact, is seeking to get out of the deal because it claims reps for the artist’s estate misrepresented its ownership of the material.
Things became even more complicated on Tuesday evening when a press release dropped announcing that a new EP called “Deliverance,” containing three previously unreleased songs dating from 2006-2008, will drop on Friday — the first anniversary of the artist’s death.
The release claims that the songs on the EP — the title track, an eight-minute-plus multi-part “Man Opera” containing four titles, and an extended version of one of those titles, “I Am” — were co-written and co-produced by Prince with longtime Paisley Park engineer Ian Boxill. After Prince’s death, Boxill completed recording and mixing the songs.
“I believe ‘Deliverance’ is a timely release with everything going on in the world today, and in light of the one-year anniversary of his passing. I hope when people hear Prince singing these songs it will bring comfort to many,” Boxill said in the release. “Prince once told me that he would go to bed every night thinking of ways to bypass major labels and get his music directly to the public. When considering how to release this important work, we decided to go independent because that’s what Prince would have wanted.”
A source close to the situation tells Variety that Boxill claims ownership of the recordings, but the estate may take legal action against him. A rep for Boxill did not respond to Variety’s request for an interview with him.
What is surprising, given the shady-seeming provenance of the recordings, is how good they are — particularly the title track, a bluesy slow-burner with some blazing guitar work, gospelesque backing singers and a soaring falsetto vocal from Prince. The “opera” is less successful but still intriguing — the four linked segments are dramatically different stylistically, ranging from a simple rocker to a gentle ballad, a complex, almost classical segment and a closing slow groove — as is the longer version of the song “I Am.” The material is strongly reminiscent of Prince’s 2006 album “3121,” which many feel is among the best of his later albums.
The EP will be released by an independent, apparently Christian label called the Rogue Music Alliance based in Vancouver, Washington (a visit to the label’s website reveals just a link to an email address and the words “RMA Logo goes here” in large letters, followed by the words “equity for artists”). A substantial marketing plan is apparently in place, as the firm has hired a top PR firm and says it has deals in place with iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Walmart, Target and others.
A rep for Universal, which technically could have rights to the recordings under the terms of the deal it is now trying to get out of, declined comment; a rep for Prince’s estate did not respond to requests for comment.