Filed under: album, EP, review | Tags: charlotte richardson andrews, devil's halo, lissie, meshell ndegeocello, nneka, no longer at ease, val phoenix, why you runnin'
In this month’s roundup, we’ll be looking at a bunch of stragglers from last year that we ran out of time to publish before Christmas, plus a few early 2010 releases in brief.
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Why You Runnin’ EP •••
This debut EP by big-lunged Illinois-born Lissie Maurus offers an intriguing but slightly samey mix of blue-eyed soul and gospel. Majestically produced by Bill Reynolds, the five songs offer a strong platform for the singer to showcase her vocal gymnastics, as well as some more subtle, plaintive tones. It’s hard to know whether to take the home-spun hysteria of ‘Wedding Bells’ seriously, as the narrator bemoans the loss of her man to another (the hussy!) on what should have been her wedding day. The world of Lissie seems to be an irony-free zone, more at home on the banks of the Mississippi than in the cynical big city. But, still, worth a visit.
UK release date: 10/11/09; www.myspace.com/lissiemusic
Devil’s Halo ••••½
With song titles like ‘Slaughter’, ‘Die Young’ and ‘Blood On The Curb’, the eighth album by multi-threat Meshell Ndegeocello might appear to be her foray into death metal, but the opening lyrics give a clue to its true nature: “She said she loved me, and I ran away” is a precursor to what turns out to be a kind of concept album on lost love. Co-produced by Ndegeocello and guitarist Chris Bruce, Devil’s Halo finds the artist reflecting on some near misses and should-have-beens, dipping into country, soul, rock and just about every musical idiom but death metal among the dozen tracks.
For those who haven’t heard any of Ndegeocello’s prolific output since her mid-’90s, hit-spawning albums, her singing voice will be a revelation. Clearly, she has been working on it; reserving her gruff speaking voice for the odd spoken-word aside, she allows her singing to take centre stage. And it’s a surprisingly supple and smooth instrument, curling around the vulnerable lyrics with ease. As ever, those lyrics are worth hearing. ‘Lola’, for example, is a bit of a musical soap opera, with the narrator decrying a woman abandoned by a woman and a man and hitting the bottle heavily. ‘Mass Transit’ offers transport as a metaphor for love, while ‘Bright Shiny Morning’ commands the listener to “get in line”, the title masking its bitterness. The album’s final words, “Don’t let me die alone”, may not be the cheeriest of sentiments, but the genre-crossing musical evolution of Meshell Ndegeocello continues to be an intriguing journey.
UK release date: 06/10/09; www.meshell.com
No Longer At Ease •••
Nneka is on the brink of good things. The Nigerian-raised, Hamburg-based artist’s 2007 debut Victim Of Truth and recent MOBO Award for Best African Act are credible starting points, but it’s her international fanbase that has attested to her down to earth credibility. Evoking all the soulful grooves of Bob Marley, Nina Simone and modern icon Lauryn Hill, this educated, honours-degree student is definitely a force to admire as No Longer At Ease attests. The title comes from a novel by African author Chinua Achebe, who in turn took inspiration from T S Eliot’s poem ‘The Journey Of The Magi’, and the cultural themes of these works are indicative of the albums motifs, centering around black consciousness, political discourses and social critiques, all anchored by her own experiences as an African woman finding her place in an alien European culture.
Hip hop beats, steady dub vibes and R&B tendencies map out the musical planes of Nneka’s passionate, half-sung, half-rapped dialogues, which flex over everything with a distinct, youthful versatility. She’s unafraid to confront, calling out big corporations on their lethal policies in ‘Niger Delta’; and while her songs are lacking in uplifting sounds (barring the delightfully sunny ‘Running Away’), they brim with revolutionary zeal. No Longer At Ease is an album from a young artist with a belly full of fire and a warrior’s heart.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 31/08/09; www.myspace.com/nnekaworld
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