JONES - Air 

Maybe "Melt" was a little too warm? Especially for a scorcher of a summer where it feels like you're getting heat zapped in a microwave set to high every time you take one step outside of your door. So JONES has given us all a little 'breathing room' from the stifle, and is blessing us with some "Air". Nice cool air. Ahhhh. A real cool-relax cut this is even in its laments ("All my senses they're dying away, lying helpless / Brittle to the touch / Crystal turned to dust / I know I’m living, but I'm breathing cold air") and its sleet shower of synths. "Air" is featured on 37 Adventures' Odd Numbers Volume 1, an upcoming collection of "one-offs" curated from the indie label's roster --- so expect some more gems like this one to be present.


Stalking Gia - Second Nature

"Poolside Pop" is what this is dubbed as and the accuracy of that is a definite bulls-eye. Swathed in supple synths, this track lounges in its lushness, even its slip n' slide bass line feels relaxed. Powerhouse pop is this newbie singer-songwriter from NYC has drawn attention by, as singles "War Paint" and "Born Free" belong in the same high-def confidence camp as Katy Perry. "Second Nature" takes a detour off that technicolored brick road and delivers something a little more intricate and unique., something that sets her away from such predictability. This may be a plush ode to summer lovin', but this is really a song about overthinking and anxieties (two things I could win all the Olympic gold medals in) as you can hear in Stalking Gia's coos that she's on that edge, wondering if she's in over her head or already too far deep into the chlorine to care.


Bishat - Mine 

Straight outta Sweden comes Bishat, and she's all about dipping her R&B into the inkiest of wells. She's getting comparisons to Shura, Lykke Li and Jessie Ware, which is sorta kinda accurate if you squint, but better applied when you listen to the mechanical workings of her proper first single, "Sober". While having a tuff pop exterior that contrasts well with Bishat's sweetened vocals, what's going on in the interior of "Mine" is a little bit different, a little more Noir-ish, that blends vulnerability with assertiveness with an even hand.


Penthouse (feat. Maribelle) - About You 

Its the celestial powers that be that have aligned Los Angeles' cult group, Penthouse and Crush Club Records' signee, Maribelle to exactness. No flaws do I hear in "About You", its a fun little jammy that I missed out on covering earlier this year. What's weird is that I've 'heard' this song before, not in exact terms, but this track rips some pages out of Kandi Burress and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs production playbook as rides on skittish, percolating rhythms and sugar dusted soprano vocals a la Mya and Mariah Carey. Not that I'm complaining --- things have been getting kind of early 2000s around here with Pokemon making a comeback and Blink-182 getting a #1 song --- but this time 'round, I get to enjoy that era with a little less teen awkwardness.


Norah Jones - Carry On

I haven't exactly warmed to a lot of Norah Jones' material outside of her 2002 debut, the new classic Come Away With Me, but I always keep checking back because from time to time she'll produce a jewel that deserves a little closer examination. "Carry On" is such a jewel to covet, as it doesn't need much to effectively draw on emotion and warm the heart. It's gentle and sweet and sways on the soft side of Southern-tinged soul --- harmless it all is and just a nice little curveball amid all the electronic synth beats I keep listening to. Though her foray into experimental music was a interesting turn, I'm glad that Norah is returning to tinkling the ivories as her upcoming Day Breaks project (out October 7th) is just going to be all about her and her piano, with Wayne Shorter, Brian Blade, and Lonnie Smith as featured guests.

All The Single Ladies: Week #2 - Jones, Stalking Gia, Bishat, Maribelle & Norah Jones


As much as "Let The Music Play" is 1980s par excellence and the quintessential bedrock to the Freestyle movement, I've always preferred Shannon's "Sweet Somebody" over it. Before you groan and protest, understand that I have always favored the more "unassuming" game-changing songs, and "Sweet Somebody" didn't need the bedazzle of a hi-NRG number or a great, commanding chorus line to note that the 1980s had arrived.

Released as the fourth and final single from Shannon's debut Let The Music Play in 1984, the track was issued at a time when R&B was in revamp mode after the champagne bubbles of disco were dissipating. "Quiet Storm" was the devised genre for Black singers who liked to croon at a glacial pace, and for some singers, they were cornered into it, but "Sweet Somebody" marked a different kind of 'quiet' soul. It's the type of pop-tinged R&B that of course Michael Jackson was perfecting a la "Billie Jean", but to my ears "Sweet Somebody" also balances that aspect very well, even placing the seeds of what would be the supple sounds of Neo-Soul for the next decade. It's not there yet, but producer Chris Barbosa (who also produced "Let The Music Play") was kind of on to something with "Sweet Somebody", and Shannon too hints at the tonal control of such a genre as her voice, while not possessing this TA-DAH! display of diva power, still is emotionally effective as her voice is playful and earthy.

For all its niceties, "Sweet Somebody" didn't do so hot on the charts. It didn't even chart in Shannon's native US of A (how rude), but the UK was kinder to its existence as it at least hit #25. Still chart positions are just numbers really, and its dismal treatment doesn't reflect its classic appeal. I guess what I'm saying in a round-a-bout way is that I've always loved how effortless this song sounds. It doesn't throw you into a synth stratosphere like "Let The Music Play" or has you wandering around in a foggy pixelated-forest like the haunting, "Give Me Tonight". It's all a really pure effortless melody that has some unexpected salt thrown in its honeyed charms, as its synths are arcade-ish, pricking and precipitating like electric rain, with a jangle of guitars lightly funking along.

It's just the perfect type of rhythm for those who didn't want to leave the dancefloor just yet and wanted a cool down after the throwdown of "Let The Music Play" or for those who couldn't quite dance on beat (like the audience members in the video below...yikes) to get in the swing of things.


For a long time I thought "Sweet Somebody" was a done deal. That Shannon did it, it was awesome, the end. It wasn't until I began getting more involved with music researching during my college years (aka the nights when I was procrastinating on my studies) that I found that "Sweet Somebody" was given its second wind by Key West artist (and later The Voice contestant) Donna Allen back in 1986. Actually "second wind" is probably too light of a description to describe Donna's take, as her version is more so a category 5 hurricane that snatches rooftops and hair follicles with the greatest of ease. Her version pretty much looks Shannon's "Sweet Somebody" up and down and goes, "That's cute..." and then proceeds to whip it into a exuberant dance number, that is bold on brass and sass, Donna's vocals clearly on that TAH-DAH! diva power I was talking about.

The difference in tone completely changes the song's narrative as Shannon seems to eye her beau-to-be from a cool distance and a friendly smile, while Allen, on the other hand, yanks that shy boy off the wall, and thrusts him out on the dancefloor, to where he can watch her get down --- and Donna knows how to get down as her time as a former cheerleader for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers paid off in dividends for her vibrant showcase on Showtime At The Apollo.


Okay. Donna and her hipwork and shoulder shimmies might be getting a little extra on this, but can you blame her? Songs like "Sweet Somebody" should make you get up when you're feeling down, make you have a smile on your face and just move your hips with abandon. Synth-soul of the 1980s is meant for that type of jubilation. It's why the sound gets duplicated a lot these days, as it works always in a pinch when you want to avoid the EDM route and not seem so 'mainstream'. And while such efforts are a nice reminder of what was, nothing compares to the sass and soul that acts like Shannon and Donna Allen brought to the genre back when R&B was coming-of-age in a new decade.

So which version do I favor? It comes down to daily feeling, and no that's not a cop-out. Mostly I listen to Shannon's original cause its comfort food and has seniority, but whenever I want the kinetic heat to rise, Donna Allen's version is right there waiting for me to crank up and get my hips thrusting. If I had the mix-master skills I'd do a mash-up of these two versions, because they are both so on-point for me in terms of style and arrangement. Maybe if it got a re-fix treatment by one of these Black-American-culture-loving British production groups, maybe it'll finally get the hit status it so deserved?

Cover Smother: Twice The Sweetness Of 'Sweet Somebody'


Disco has been on my brain for the last few weeks or so. Just this week I finished reading Peter Shapiro's Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History Of Disco, and due to it being a fascinating read with an extensive discography (more on that later, that is if you follow me on GoodReads!), I dug deep into string-filled, bass slappin' bliss and I don't think I can come down from such a high. Fortunately, Christina Aguilera has dropped a shimmering disco-fied strut that will sho' nuff  keep me on that groove line for months to come.

"Telepathy" is Christina's soundtrack contribution for Baz Lurhman's Netflix series, The Get Down, a series I've been anticipating for some time due to its focus on the last days of disco into the wild new frontiers of hip-hop by way of the Bronx, circa 1977. As someone who loves this transitional era of music that also birthed such sub-cultures as punk and ballroom, you bet I'll be binge-watching the series when it premieres its first half this Friday (August 12). Though the reviews have been less-than glowing, I'm putting a bit more stock in its soundtrack, as Lurhman has recruited Nas and Grandmaster Flash to curate a vibe that will give sonic accuracy to such an exciting period of musical and cultural change.

"Telepathy" is a good look, as it hones in on disco penchant for angelic symphonics, brazen brass, and big diva voices --- one that Christina possesses and has often put to good use --- and on this she gives off echoes of Donna Summer with a light nod to Jocelyn Brown when the drama climaxes. And since you can't say disco without the name of Chic legend, Nile Rodgers being uttered, he's rightly present here, adding in his iconic rhythm line to bolster up the carnal-craving lyricals that Sia has scribed. Speaking of ballroom, "Telepathy" is prime for some vogue-ing inside the House of La Beija, as its got that percolating backbeat that was meant to whack and pose the night away.

This is a nice change of pace after her emotional tribute to the victims of the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting, and a nice wink towards the kind of vibe Miss Xtina might be cooking up for her long-awaited, X8 project.

Audio: Christina Aguilera & Nile Rodgers Get Down With 'Telepathy'

To lessen some of my posting load as I embark on new career adventures, I decided give into the ol' 'round-up' cliche, where I gather up a random number of singles/songs that piqued my interest for the week and tell y'all about them in so few words. The post will be weekly, maybe every Thursday depending on my mood. Some surprises, expectations, and maybe a throwback or two will be featured. So if it wasn't a major lit single that deserved to bask in its own spotlight, it's gonna be here with diamond rings on it. Ha. 


JoJo - F*** Apologies

So JoJo is officially, officially back as her looooooooong anticipated third album, Mad Love will arrive October 14th. She even made a birth announcement about it, so the she's serious, y'all. The first single, "Fuck Apologies" is....okay. I could do without Wiz Kalifa --- which is a line that has probably been uttered a few times --- but that's because most rap features don't add anything to the conversation these days and this is no different. Still it's an above average R&B joint, JoJo sangin' and throwin' the proper 'tude towards the boy who's buggin' her (or more than likely calling out the recording contract purgatory she endured for several years). It's some feelings she had to get off her chest, and JoJo is sorry, not sorry for all the right reasons. I think I like this for the fact that this is an actual official single and not something that is "buzzing" or is on a freEP. Progress.


Ester Rada - Cry For Me

Ester Rada released one of my favorite albums in 2014 and it's great to see her back in action again, with a new album (hopefully) waiting in the wings. Sounding less eclectic than last heard, the percussion-packed "Cry For Me" is Ester Rada gettin' her soulful snarl on as she brings truth to power on a track that puts her vocals front and center. Slamming on failed father figures ain't a new a bag (see Christina Aguilera, Sylvia Plath), but Ester Rada brings a new salted intensity to such an open wound, and like JoJo, she's sorry, not sorry about having to turn the hot stage lights on the reality she's facing. Dig the nicely executed performance and its haunting message-heavy visual.


Sinead Harnett - If You Let Me (feat. Grades) 

Veering into new territory can be daunting, but after winning raves for her chilled-out soul of "No Other Way" and "She Ain't Me", Sinead Harnett decides a dip into the ice-water bath of balladry does wonders for the complexion. Tossing and turning amid 'mile-long sheets', Sinead faces the demise of a relationship on "If You Let Me", and she's in and out of denial, lamenting though a tear-stained veneer of moody, trudging synths. This track is begging for a US crossover hit, and if folks would wake up and realize Sinead Harnett is the real deal, this type of track could get Adele to sweat under her collar a bit because she's not the only UK import who can tap on the tears. "If You Let Me" resides on Sinead's self-titled EP, which is out now.


Emily King - Focus 

Emily King's excellent 2015 release, The Switch, is the gift that keeps on giving well into a new year as its deluxe edition extends its conversation with satisfying results. Most deluxe editions don't offer much, and often seem more beneficial for the artist's wallets than the consumers', but The Switch doesn't play that game. It's 11-track swells to a manageable 16, enhanced by a demo version of favored track, "Sleepwalker", and two bonus cuts ("BYIMM" and "Focus"), that didn't deserve to be cut from The Switch's fabric. "Focus" is my favorite of the duo. With its earnest, plucking bass lines and stomping percussion, King is in high spirits channeling a little Prince here and there as she two-steps amid its rapturous melodies. A real beaut this one is.


Throwback: The Bangles - Hazy Shade Of Winter

If you've been following me on Twitter, I've been spazzing out about Netflix's Stranger Things, even right down to its typography (yes, I'm that nerdy). Everything about that show is so up my alley as it's every horror/sci-fi paperback and '80s era Twilight Zone I read and watched in my youth come to life. The soundtrack is also totally 1980s, a pure alternative New Wave affair that seems curated by the hand of John Hughes. Women aren't necessarily represented well on the soundtrack, but that's probably because all the girl power that can ever be created is pumped into Millie Bobby Brown's amazing character of Eleven, still this gem from The Bangles made its presence known during the end credits of the second episode and it was a pleasant and perfectly placed surprise, especially since that episode was pretty intense (Poor Barb...).

As the show is set in 1983, much liberty is taken with this song's inclusion as "Hazy Shade Of Winter" was featured on the Less Than Zero soundtrack back in 1987, but according to nit-picking audiophiles, The Bangles were already performing this song live during 1983, so all is right in the '80s realm of things. 1983, 1987 --- same diff right? Bad ass guitar riffs never have expiration dates though, and this one has one of the greatest, so indulge.

All The Single Ladies: Week #1 - JoJo, Ester Rada, Sinead Harnett, Emily King & The Bangles


'Purple Women' is a limited tribute series honoring the women who made music and history with Prince during his lifetime. To follow this series and check out the who's who of women on the roster, be sure to visit the introductory page for further information.  

Whenever I find myself in a conversation about Prince's protégés (which isn't often, and devastatingly so), Taja Sevelle is a name that tends to get overlooked. Names like Sheila E., Vanity, and Morris Day are almost always the first names to be uttered, and if someone's wanting to impress and flex their Prince knowledge, Jill Jones or Wendy & Lisa get verbal nods. Taja Sevelle's name comes up when you're truly digging in those crates, discovering those luminaries that had a brief bask in the purple light. Even though her time to glow was pretty brief, Taja Sevelle is no footnote in the Purple Reign, and truth be told, she's one of my favorite protégés for all her elusive, and short-lived presence in it, because nothing is more intriguing to me than a singer who hits all the right and distinct notes, but still cannot capture the attention of pop's ever-fickle audience.

Dig if you will this picture...

Taja Sevelle (born Nancy Richardson) had some strong ties to Prince from the get-go, as she herself was a Minneapolis native, and like Prince she also was on that young musical prodigy hustle with her career beginning in radio as a DJ and show programmer, and later on hopscotching around to various local R&B and jazz bands as a singer. Such hustlin' led to Taja merging into Prince's world as she not only became an extra in the iconic Purple Rain, but she also caught the attention of his Royal Badness during production. Soon Taja found herself in the her own Sophie's Choice a year later when the same week she was accepted to the Berklee College of Music, she was also offered a record deal by Prince. Like any sane person, Taja signed on the dotted line and became a recording artist for Paisley Park Records. Prince's initial interest in Taja was to utilize her for a new girl band he was forming, but after some pondering, he decided to scratch the idea and focus on making her a solo act.

Prince gave Taja the most breathing room to craft her own material, this permission a little unprecedented in the protégé camp, as she wrote four songs for her album as akin to his two previously-performed contributions ("Wouldn't You Love To Love Me" and "If I Could Get Your Attention"). Still, the most unique gesture is that Prince decided not to do a total hands-on production for Taja Sevelle, as he asked then-Warner Brothers Records president, Lenny Waronker, to guide the creation of Taja's debut, bringing along the assistance of  Michael Ostin and Benny Medina (who would later on become notable for piloting Jennifer Lopez to superstardom) to executive produce. This changing of the guard led to Taja Sevelle sounding less like a Prince album, and more like a Taja Sevelle album.

Prince does tend to overpower on productions, least we forget, and I give him credit that he can ride shotgun when he wants to, but at this time, the mid-'80s, with the Revolution now disbanded, and his attentions diverting towards 'grooming' Sheila E. for solo success, and being a mad scientist in the studio to create such elusive epics like Sign 'O' The Times, giving Taja some room to grow on her own seemed like another experiment in itself. Maybe Prince couldn't exactly give Taja the attention she deserved, or maybe this was the beginning of the notorious scuffling that was going on behind the scenes with Prince and Warner Bros. that led to such a decision, but even though Taja Sevelle isn't drenched in the Prince sensibility that most protégé albums posses, it still retains a lot of Prince's desires for urgent and exciting music in a sea of synthesized sameness.

Prince keeping the faith and swooning over Taja's self-written cut, "Love Is Contagious" might be what cements this album. It really is a one-of-a-kind track as it sounded like nothing that was coming out at that time. It was simple in style and intention, but it revels in such warmth about the beginning buds of sprouting romance, that you can't help but feel uplifted and recall your first time innocently crushing on someone. Instrumentation wise, it doesn't need the extra tinsel of scythe-slicing '80s synths or drum machines, and its clean, almost blank backdrop, rubber band snap percussion, and calliope synths winked towards a subtle Prince trademark. Still, "Love Is Contagious" has the cool grace to waltz like a Prince song, but still move in its own direction. Unfortunately such uniqueness wasn't enough as it rested at an insulting #62 on the Hot 100, making it one of the most underrated singles of the 1980s, if not in pop/R&B in general.


Second single, "Wouldn't You Love To Love Me" is infamous for being the song that Prince wanted to produce for Michael Jackson, but failed in doing so after creative differences clouded their once-proposed collaboration. When you first take a listen to the song, it is kind of hard to imagine Michael singing it, in fact I myself can't imagine Michael singing anything by Prince and vice versa, because they were like oil and water, essential when we discuss the main ingredients of pop culture history, but still immiscible together. Them together would just distort the legend of them as these extremely larger than life entities. I mean, such a union didn't exactly work for Prince and Madonna either...

"Wouldn't You Love To Love Me" deserved to get its second wind through Taja for it bubbled with vigorous optimism, an attitude that a debut artist would revel in, not a been-there-done-that performer like Michael whose virility was in overdrive mode without guesswork circa 1987. It's why the track fits Taja to a tee, and Taja's playful power flirting is well, mighty contagious. Written by Prince during the sessions for his 1978 debut, For You, and featuring Eric Leeds on an unaccredited sax solo, "Wouldn't You Love To Love Me" bounces, shimmies and shakes, Taja sounding so jubilant, so damn euphoric that you wonder why this guy she's yearning for hasn't taken her up on her offer. While this song feels familiarly Prince, Taja goes off-script for a lot of it, adding in vocal flourishes here and there for flavor.

Adding to the fun, "Wouldn't You Love To Love Me" has the most 1980s video I've ever seen as its littered with workaholic yuppies and West Side Story-meets-urban-jazz choreography of Paula Abdul. Unfortunately, all of Prince's push and power couldn't save this single from being cursed to also not climb out of the bottom 50, as it stalled at an unfair #61 on the Hot Black Singles chart.


The remainder of Taja Sevelle is a treasure trove of potential. Third single, the funk snack of "Popular" snaps and crackles with slap-bass and storytelling lyrics about a love-starved and knocked-about prostitute. Such an honest topic no doubt was too 'real' for radio, as it never registered on the radar, even though it is one of the best songs here and could rival Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately" and Jody Watley's "Looking For A New Love" as being some serious straight-forward take-no-bullshit R&B workout. It's remixed video version kinda warps the song for me (seriously, the album version is ah-mazing and would make a hell of a dance routine), though it does beef things up in the bass department, and that's never a bad thing.


While incorporating all the '80s hallmarks of sassafrass attitude, metropolis despondency, and voluminous crimped hair, Taja Sevelle isn't over-saturated on such characteristics. Far from processed in sound and narrative it is, and it's also not too carefully pruned as debut albums tend to be, as its alchemy maintains an earnest 'earthiness' to it, and more than often doesn't pretend to be something that it isn't, which to me is the main attribute of a honest to goodness pop record. It's not without fault though, as it does suffer from direction issues and some uninspired moments, but Taja is more than capable of carrying her songs and sound above the generic Madonna wannabes that came out by the truckloads at the time, and in some sense, she predates what Paula Abdul achieved to hit-status on 1988's Forever Your Girl by way of skirting on the fine, blurred line of where New Jack and Pop were beginning to intersect. Taja's pipes also win her over as they were in prime condition, enabling her to switch gears from going all-torch and all-register changes a la Mariah Carey like she does on the impeccable paper-hearted ballad, "How Could You Do Me So Bad?" to firing up about the plight of teenage mothers on "Mama 16".

"Take Me For A Ride" was not the wisest single choice as it just didn't grab one by the collar. On it, Taja morphed into a edgier, bronzer Debbie Gibson, something that diluted a lot of the hot sauce of tunes like "Popular" and "Wouldn't You Love To Love Me". Fairing better as a single would've been the hard-oiled electro-funk machine of "Infatuation" or the other-Prince curated track, "If I Could Get Your Attention", as it explored the Paisley Park just right on whimsy and wit, but at this point in the game, nobody cared, and the album dissolved into obscurity while interest in Taja also faded.

Taja would release two more efforts, 1991's Fountains Free and 1997's Toys Of Vanity, before bowing out of the music industry for a bit to flex her green thumb, forming Urban Farming, an organization that provides farm-raised produce for food banks in inner cities. Prior to Prince's passing he donated funds as well as performed at a benefit concert in Urban Farming's honor, pushing aside the false narrative that Prince doesn't care about his former associates. While Urban Farming continues to flourish today, Taja never once let the fault in her stars keep her from her musical passions, as she's still on that hustle, dropping a single or two on Spotify yearly.

So why did Taja Sevelle not take the expected hit-filled flight and notoriety that a Prince protégé often promises? Timing is everything in this case as 1987 was nothing but a diva party.

The year saw Janet and Jody reinventing themselves to a successful string of cross-over hits and album sales, with Madonna was continuing to titillate audiences, and Whitney Houston was bringing the songstress back into fashion for a new generation of songbirds. Teen idols like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were covering the Orange Julius crowd at malls across America, and New Jack would find its brigade of divas with Karyn White and Pebbles waiting in the wings. Taja Sevelle could've fit in among the Taylor Daynes and the Jody Watleys, but as I've always seen with particular time frames of female music movements, sometimes not everybody can join in on the party full-term. Taja Sevelle had just enough spunk and quirk to carve a different kind of diva niche for the late '80s, but unfortunately, not enough elements aligned in her favor for success to gain traction.

That's the pop life for ya, and sometimes it better to get that one surefire thrill than none at all.

Purple Women: Wouldn't You Love To Love Taja Sevelle?


The anatomy of a good song is pretty obvious --- distinct voice, tight instrumentation, lyrics that rattle from the soul  --- but what makes a song truly stand out to me is the afterglow effect. How it lingers long after the fade out. Cosima's "Had To Feel Something" has that lingering effect.

"Had To Feel Something" truly is quite the first impression to this Peckham-raised newbie, who gained a bit of buzz when she appeared on Lil' Silva's deliciously spastic, "Caught Up" earlier this year. The first time I listened to it, Cosima's silken alto struck me (think Meshell Ndegeocello at her most cerebral moment...), then the heady haunting of blending basslines and lonely guitar strums seeped in next, along with such fraught lines as "every day is a Monday, and there's no hope for Friday".

Of course, I knew this was a good song as songs about inner angst and loneliness have a lasting kinship with me. It also gets the good stamp because doesn't sound like any of the zillion other future soul cuts out there which is a plus, as nothing bores me more than clones of clones, but "Had To Feel Something" invites you to that second, that third listen, it's really resides in your conscious. Try to play it once and not think about it. Go on. Try it. I bet you can't resist the temptation.

Seriously, if you don't 'feel' something with this, then I feel for you...
 

Audio: Cosima Is Givin' Us 'Something' We Can 'Feel'


Making changes is tough, but I've learned the best way to deal with them is to not rush the transition. You have to acclimate yourself to it, feel your way through, or as Lao Tzu once waxed: "let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they may like." Most will view Chapters as Yuna's R&B "coming out party", where she has dramatically altered the course of her charming pop-folk sound, going full speed into urban territory. Truth be told, the Malaysian singer-songwriter-instrumentalist has been easing herself into the heady, warm waters of the R&B genre since her first proper introduction, and it all began with a little song called "Live Your Life".

With "Live Your Life", the Pharrell Williams production from 2012 gave her the 'cred' and put her on notice for those who like their rhythm and blues on ice. Her sophomore set, 2013's Nocturnal, burst with indie pop and folk influence, but the inclusions of alt-R&B and Hip-Hop tastemakers Chad Hugo and Robin Hannibal on production gave her an edge that made songs like "I Want You Back" and the single "Fallen" ruminations in the modern blues. So hinting at R&B reincarnation ain't a new bag for Yuna, in fact, she has made the complete transition, courting the right spark with Chapters. 

I'll be real and say that not everything present on Chapters is a page-turner. As the mood swings from rapture to dejection, Chapters can get a little preoccupied in its morose and monochromatic soundbed, at times doing little to no favors for Yuna when it comes to tonal control. Yet like all good literature, Chapters does linger in the mind after the last word is uttered, urging you to re-read and experience this understated collection anew.

Chapter 1: Mannequin
From the start, "Mannequin" announces how often bleak Chapters reads. Yuna draws a dejected notion how women often feel like plastic objects when they're in one-sided relationships where love is far from being reciprocated ("I don't know what it means to feel whole/You're next to me, but I feel so cold with you/I will be your mannequin, love/Moving my lips the way that you want/Remain the same whenever you walk away"). Like I said, there are some bleak realizations here and "Mannequin" is evocative, but Yuna sugars so sweet when she coos on this track to where you can almost picture all artificial hearts melting at its spell.

Chapter 2: Lanes
Exploring a relationship built on lies with a social climbing Lothario, "Lanes" is a great single entry, nocturnal and downbeat as it hints at SWV's slower methodical jams, complete with Yuna wielding a sharpened tongue. Even though she's got a roomed booked at the Heartbreak Hotel, she's not afraid to admit her dude is toxic, and she X-Acto knifes his character right down to his icebox heart, ending with a dangling in the air clapback that says so much in just four words.


Chapter 3: Crush (feat. Usher)
Who knew that Usher would find his best duet partner in Yuna? Far from the shouting match that "My Boo" was with Alicia Keys (never forget), "Crush" blushes and bats its eyelashes in all the right places, but isn't terribly teeth-cracking sweet. Easily one of 2016's best singles, as well as a R&B duet that has been long overdue.


Chapter 4: Unrequited Love
Peg this as Yuna's 'Sade' moment as she tosses and turns in Ms. Adu's rumpled bedsheets, a la "No Ordinary Love" and "Solider Of Love". Unlike Sade, Yuna isn't in the throws of love, she's pining from afar and the torment is just too severe to let go. Easily this is the best song on the set.

Chapter 5: Best Love
The funkiest of the bunch is "Best Love" and due to Robin Hannibal's production has a bubbly Quadron quality to it. Yuna even adopts the diction of Hannibal's Quadron mate, Coco O. down to the atom, which may or may not be a good thing as with such adoption Yuna doesn't own the song like she should. Still this fact doesn't distract from it being a highlight here and one that I always keep going back too, probably cause it's a lot of fun, and more so I'm feening for more Quadron!

Chapter 6: Used To Love You (feat. Jhené Aiko)
"Used To Love You" more so amplifies Yuna's strengths, and Jhené Aiko's weaknesses (hint: Yuna is the better vocalist) and as far as duets goes it pales in comparison to the sparks that flew between Yuna and Usher. Yuna and Jhené's voices do kind of blend into each other, forgoing some sort of Brandy & Monica update, but I do appreciate how Jhené knows how to pen the slinkiest of heartbreakers.

Chapter 7: Too Close
This would make a great pairing with Shura's "2Shy" as it taps into the innocent side of '90s-inspired R&B. It relays Yuna's fears for starting up a new relationship after being jilted, and you can feel every worried nerve fidgeting as Yuna tries that falsetto on for size. Still, I prefer "2Shy" as its completely more 'exciting' sonically than "Too Close".

Chapter 8: Best Of Me
Some perk is brought back with this plucky, hip-hop flavored number where Yuna is ready to roll with them punches. As mentioned, even when Yuna is at her wits end, she really doesn't get too emotional, she stands tall and comes out fierce, fists raised. She truly has a true gift for writing inspiring numbers and the lyrics here pack punch and confidence ("Yeah, I'm not gonna let you get the best of me today/ All these people tryna bring out the worst in me/Come look at what you've created I'm better than what you've been saying"), striking somewhere in the middle of Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" and Whitney Houston's "I Learned From The Best".

Chapter 9: Your Love
The kaleidoscopic zeal of Nocturnal's latter half far out-shines Chapters somewhat tepid outros. While dousing itself in EDM pop, going a little in Ellie Goulding's direction, "Your Love" just doesn't snap, crackle, or pop like the opening tracks, no matter its climaxing BPM. This song has grown on me with repeated listens, but it's kind of forgettable as it rides on formulaic touches.

Chapter 10: All I Do
You pretty much know what you're gonna get with a David Foster-produced ballad: pretty commerciality. Not that that's bad, because it would be rude of me not to mention that Yuna gives a exceptional vocal performance throughout this, but it's a ballad that really just sits there and could've been sung by any female singer that can at least carry a tune right now. It just doesn't have the emotional, personable ties as the other songs here, and feels a little gimmicky if I want to be real frank about it. I guess I've lost patience for these kinds of plastic fruit ballads, but if there is one thing I wish that could've been left in the '90s, it's the kind of pop-based balladry that really is all about voice, and not much else.

Liner Notes: Reading Through The 'Chapters' Of Yuna


You would think that after a series of unfortunate events (a fell-through deal with Roc Nation, a delayed second album, and a group project imploding) former Missy Elliott protege, Nicole Wray would throw her hands up and call a truce, but a success story isn't built on the act of quitting, least we forget, and 'quitting' doesn't seem to be apart of Wray's vocabulary.

As a wise woman once sang, if at first you don't succeed dust yourself off and try again, and Wray has done just that, by changing her name to Lady Wray, signing with Brooklyn-based independent label, Big Crown, and culling together fresh material for her upcoming, Queen Alone (due September 23rd). I missed out on Wray's trumpet-blaring intro single, "Do It Again", last month, so I'm catching up with her latest, the blues-tinged, "Guilty". Like "Do It Again", "Guilty" taps into that old soul sound, where Wray croons like a seasoned Jackson 5 family member, and stitches her heart to her sleeve as echoing backing vocalists call-and-respond hauntingly.

Penned by Lady Wray herself, "Guilty" has an emotional back-story to it, as during an interview with Consequence of Sound, Wray explained that she wrote the song after receiving a letter from her brother who was incarcerated during the holidays."It has a double meaning to me, referring both to his verdict and how I felt looking at the Christmas tree and not experiencing his pain with him," she recalled. "I wanted to be just as uncomfortable as he was." Wray shares this discomfort in the searing chorus line ("I won't be comfortable, cause I know that you're gone"), but fortunately, there is a bit of solace nearing track's end, as Wray, the queen of no-quitting, comes out of her darken woes to comfort her brother, letting him know that she's thinking about him every step of the way.

Touching and evocative, "Guilty" is a pleasure to engage in.
 

Audio: Lady Wray's 'Guilty' Is A Pleasure


I love it when Sophie Ellis-Bextor is shaken, not stirred.

^ This is more or less a petty jab at her trying her hand at folkish down-tempos for 2014's Wanderlust, an album while beautiful, ambitious, and admirable to those who hadn't boarded the Sophie Express was a collection that I myself just didn't have the patience for. Forgive me for being "uncultured" and inflexible when it comes to change, but I've been spoiled for two decades with Sophie's hi-NRG dance tunes and electro-slow jams, and while I appreciate her gusto to emerge out of her comfort zone, I'm sorry, but when I hear the name "Sophie Ellis-Bextor" I want to dance, dammit.

Well, it seems that Sophie will make her sixth album, Familia (out this September) the danceable affair cranky, dance-thirsty folks like me have been vying for, this all clued from its introductory single, "Come With Us". "Come With Us" is Sophie's return (thank goodness) to being a nouveau disco queen, as it shimmers, swings, and sways like it's 1977 with guitars boogie-oogie-oogie-ing up a storm, and Sophie's come-hither tone perfectly seasoned throughout its intoxicating pulse.

To a passive listener, "Come With Us" isn't an instant attraction like the naughts classic, "Murder On The Dancefloor" or her fantastic take on Cher's "Take Me Home", this is a disco cut that requires some repeated listens, a little immersion. But I bet once you latch on, you'll be feeling like Bianca Jagger, riding bareback on a horse out on the Studio 54 dancefloor circa 1977...or something to that extent.

Dance under the electric stars...

Audio: 'Come With' Sophie Ellis-Bextor To The Land Of Disco

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