My 200th post! Yay!

Kimbra - Sweet Relief 

Um, I was slumbering on this....

While I hide my shame at not highlighting new Kimbra (from September no less...womp) let me allow my favorite zany New Zealander to give the deets on what this new single means:
‘Sweet Relief’ came from a season of experimentation where I took time to work with some upcoming artists and producers that I love. I’m a big fan of Redinho’s work. We made this track together in London. It highlights our shared love of warped funk and groove royals like Prince and Janet Jackson. For me, the song explores the push and pull of human desire for intimacy, the tension and power of touch, and a liberation of the senses. I’m about to start recording my third album, which is already going in new directions for me, but I really wanted to share this song before I embark on that new endeavor.
Warped funk, "Sweet Relief" definitely is. I do hear Prince in there, and a smidgen of Janet --- especially in those high-pitched parts --- and during the breakdown there is a little Tim Burton/Danny Elfman spooky-poo weirdness going on. Me likes a lot.

Oh, and if your in for a good ol' mind fuck, watch the video...

Lykke Li/Liv - Wings Of Love

SO. Fleetwood. Mac. But. SO. Freaking. Good.

"Wings Of Love" is the first fruit of labor from the super group, Liv, which features the roster of Lykke Li, Jeff Bhasker, Miike Snow members Andrew Wyatt and Pontus Winnberg, and Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John. Whew. The song is more easy-going than saying all those names 5 times fast, and so is the video, which marks Lykke Li's directorial debut, and features nakedness, running through trees, and random artwork. You know, pure 2016 hippy-dippy-hipster bullshat.

But the song is gooooood. 1970s revival gooooood.

Arima Ederra - In My Garden

Though it deals with New Year's Resolutions (and why it's silly to make them), Anais Nin's quote is so damn true about how the habit of making plans, sanctioning and molding one's life is a daily event. Los Angelian, Arima Ederra's latest cut shares that same sentiment, just that a garden is the metaphor for continuous personal growth itself. You won't be "waiting to sprout" with this serene and beautiful joint, all you have to do is kick-back, and watch your garden grow, this tune being all the photosynthesis you need.

"In My Garden" is the first single for Arima's upcoming sophomore EP, Temporary Fixes (out November 15th), and since I liked her last EP, 2012's Earth To Arima, I know for sure I'm going to enjoy this one even more.

Yuna - LoveSong

Anything 1980s, and I'm there. So you bet I had my ears perked up for, The Time Is Now!a collection of re-imagined '80s hits by such diverse performers as Bebel Gilberto, Aloe Blacc, Marian Hill, and more, in order to support amFar AIDS benefit. Aside from Theophilus London being born to re-make Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days", Yuna makes a wonderful and medative entry with The Cure's "Lovesong. I know, I know Adele made the definitive cover of this song, but Yuna's chic rendering takes the song into a soulful house space, one that gives the feeling if Sade or Everything But The Girl took a stab at it.

Sylvie Grace - Lately

Trying to figure oneself out is not always a smooth ride, but Sylvie Grace makes self-doubt, growing pains, and pushing past personal demons sound about as pleasant as a Sunday drive by the sparkly lakeside. Serious. This is about the most serene "The internal struggle is fo' real" song I've ever heard. "Lately" merges aquatic synths with grainy, folksy guitars, and the mesh a delight to the ears. I'm glad I stumbled on this Chicagoan vocalist and songwriter (and cellist, and poet, and romantic...etc.), as she has the same patience and grace as Andy Allo did before she met Prince and began to wild out. If you've heard, Allo's UnFresh debut, you'll notice how Sylvie and Andy have a similar vocal tone, and with "Lately" it was nice to revisit that vibe. Lots of interesting tempo changes happen here as well, and stay tuned for the 3 minute mark where some really cool diction and technical things happen. A hidden gem this one is.

All The Single Ladies: Week #4 - Kimbra, Lykke Li, Arima Ederra, Yuna & Sylvie Grace

I sit here counting on my painted fingers (and toes) how long that it's been since I've been excited about a female rapper...and really all my digits have been spent. True facts: it's been a looooong time since I've enjoyed dope beats and flows coming from a female roar. Like Missy Elliott, Floetry, and Eve making their debuts loooong time. Well, what about Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks, you say? Yeah, what about them? One was always "too much in a little bag" for me, and the other spends more time spitting insult bars on social media than making actual music. Unreliable and unrelatable they are to me.

Now Noname, she was someone who I gravitated to with immediacy.

Maybe it was because she had such an unusual, grab-your-attention nom de plume. She was formerly called "Noname Gypsy" but dropped the "gypsy" when she felt it had an offensive tone to it. Noname became not just name, but personal thesis, as the Chi-Town raptress believes not having a name expands her creativity and causes her to live with no limits.

Or maybe it had something to do with her FADER interview where she seemed, forthright, real, and one of the few musical artists who didn't rattle off fellow musicians names as influences --- she named authors and poets, one of them being Toni Morrison. It's why a lot of Telefone, Noname's breakout debut album, has a storytelling quality about it, and why it drives with purpose and intellect, something that I'm always down for.

Maybe it was just because Telefone is like a cool stream of keen thought and poetic awareness in a desert of mediocrity and just plain crap that is the hip-hop landscape these days?

Maybe...I'm running out of maybes...and need to cut to the chase....

While rap often rests on grandstand and ego, Noname (birth certificate name, Fatima Warner), doesn't have to flaunt that she's wide-awake with a flashy persona (remember she's about expanding her creativity beyond name...), rather, she's puts self-awareness and trust in her lyricals, pushing her ego aside for finding deeper meaning outside of material gain. Her voice sparks thought, the intent and beats all just falling into cohesive step with each other, and its doper than dope.

If you keep up with rap circles better than I do you'll remember Noname making her first impression on fellow Chicagoan, Chance The Rapper's "Lost" from his breakthrough, Acid Rap project. Her child-like coo, while china fragile on feel, declared words of Teflon. Such a striking, and effective contrast happens and expands on Telefone.

The 10-track player, which features guest spots from Raury, Eryn Allen Kane and Saba, unfolds as a conversation within, a social studies of self and surroundings. There are some heavy duty topics here --- addiction, police brutality, relationships, familial bonds, the transition from child to adult  --- and they are timely, and necessary in all of their expression. Aside from the abortion realness of skewed lullaby of "Bye Bye Baby", where mother and baby trade dialogue, "Casket Pretty" stands out as the most brutal truth that is spilled on the record, as its lyrics drum up the emotional strain, mistrust, and the constant violent images we've witnessed on timelines and TV concerning unarmed African-Americans being unjustly gunned down by the men (and women) in blue. "All my n----s is casket pretty/ain't no one safe in this happy city/I'm afraid of the dark blue and white/badges and pistols rejoice in the night".  

Not all is grim and weeping on Telefone. Optimism blooms on the gorgeous, "Yesterday", as it opens the album like a promising, serene morning, with Noname reminiscing about lost love ones, and how such losses, the "little things that saved her soul" taught her about the deeper corners of love and life. Sharing love with another, with personal ground rules in tow, is nicely rendered on "All I Need". On "Reality Check" while rejecting the mainstream and highlighting the creative roadblocks that lent to why Telefone took three years to compile, but the song is motivational in how Noname persists with her art in the fashion she does, Eryn Allen Kane quelling doubts with her genial hook ("Don't fear the light, that dwells deep within/ You are powerful, beyond what you imagine/Just let your light glow"). The albums consensus is that there is light at the end, keep following.

Black women have clearly raised their megaphones and fists higher than high this year, and Noname's album too joins the enthralling conversation with other 'magical' sista girl albums, like Solange's A Seat At The Table and Jamila Woods' HEAVN (which Noname has a guest spot on), as it's an album geared to make the political, personal, being as unapologetic and B-L-A-C-K as can be, but still finding room amid the harsh realities to be gentle and soothing in its rehabilitation of self.

So, yes, thank goodness for Telefone and for Noname, thank goodness R&B and hip-hop can fuse together in blissful aural form, as for a moment there I thought women in hip-hop had lost their voice, and all sense of themselves. Here, now, we're back on track...


New In Town: Noname

The saga of The Supremes is based on not just the music, the sad departure of Florence Ballard or the 'bossiness' of Diana Ross, but on the fact that they managed to stay strong past expectation. Girl groups are fickle entities after all as they never stay around long past that second or third album, because of a, b, and the c of "catty" behind-the-scenes squabbles, but the Supremes managed to weather such storms without so much as a wane in interest. Of course being nine members deep and a revolving door of line-up changes throughout a decade doesn't exactly scream "stability", but rather it points a finger at Motown's ability to stretch that all-mighty dollar till it could rip. Still the Supremes remaining to deliver hits (let's not forget about "Nathan Jones" and "Floy Joy") and be a fixture in the soul cannon even in the midst of big alterations is nothing to sneer about.

As I've been combing through the post-Ross years recently, I noticed how truly great the replacement players have been. I know, I know it's utter sacrilege to diss the legend that is Ross, but believe me, I'm not. While Ross is forever immortalized with the immediate infectious hits like "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and "Baby Love", hits that everybody and their mama can sing (off-key) right when those opening lines chime in, her voice was never truly as 'colorful' as Jean Terrell's or Scherrie Payne's or Susaye Greene-Browne's.


I know, you're winching at that line and have already dismissed any opinion I have from here on out, but my ears just hear how exceptionally more...electric, how much stronger the vocalizing was in the Supremes camp A.D. (After Diana). But I guess Diana may have gotten the last smirk, as the twist of fate is that while the vocalizing game was on-point, the music for Mary Wilson and Co. was oftentimes hit-or-miss.

Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene-Browne were a part of the final reincarnation of the Supremes, and they came about during The Supremes disco makeover era. Disco and the Supremes were never the best of meshes, but they worked out fine on albums like High Energy and the swan song, Mary, Scherrie and Susaye. It's just the Supremes were all about the sweet, supple harmonies and the voices, and disco's latticed backdrops of strings and bass sliced into the fluidity of that. Still this never stopped them from having big hits on the disco charts ("He's My Man, "Where Do I Go From Here", "You're My Driving Wheel").

Susaye, Mary and Scherrie circa 1977

When the Supremes decided to severe ties once and for all, Scherrie and Susaye rode off into the sunset as a promising new duo, and in 1979 their alliance birthed Partners.

I didn't know what to expect when I came upon this album. At first I was surprised that Spotify even had it (to my knowledge its a rare find), and then I was thrilled because that cover is soooo super fly seventies with the satin, velveteen and the faux potted plant. That cover just announces "I AM 1979!" and creates the ambiance right there, and with Scherrie and Susaye striking curious poses in satin-backed chairs, I knew the music inside was probably the plushiest soul-disco around.

Gosh, I love it when I'm right...

From jump you're frolicking in the flora and fauna of disco! (exclamation point is necessary), with the opening notes of "Storybook Romance". The horns bleat and sting, the frantic pace of the percussion and bass chugs. Scherrie and Susaye have got this snarling snazzy tone to their voices to where they give a real workout. Freda Payne had previously worked some of her magic on this song for her 1978 album, Supernatural High, but I'm sorry Ms. Payne, Scherrie and Susaye have gotcha beat.

I should dive in to say that the duo also wrote a majority of the material here, and in a previous life, the two were prolific songwriters of their own, penning some pretty impressive cuts. Scherrie's writing roster included tunes for Dusty Springfield and sister Freda Payne, while Susaye has co-writing credits for hits like Deniece Williams' "Free" and Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover". And it's not everyday that a writer gets to co-scribe with Stevie Wonder, but Susaye's name is right there next to his on Michael Jackson's much-beloved, "I Can't Help It". So yes, these sistas were doling out the receipts that they were forces to be reckoned with.

Partners wasn't meant to be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am deal, Scherrie and Susaye were hoping to continue on well into the next decade, but since Motown didn't see any future promise for the duo, they squashed the idea before it could really get to rolling.


As I'm just a mere music lover and observer, I never know what record labels are looking for or why certain artists adhere more to a listen public or prevail over others. Sometimes it's just luck. Sometimes timing is just off. It was 1979 after all, and disco was on its last legs, wobbling into the 1980s, and since Partners one and only single, "Leaving Me Was The Best Thing You've Ever Done" was swathed in suave sweeps of disco-fied strings and was dramatic the way the best disco songs are, it got stuck with such a label.

If only someone had listened past that song and culled some more single options, maybe Partners wouldn't have been dead on arrival.

Production for Partners was overseen by the late Eugene McDaniels, whose prolific trackrecord included production for the likes of Lenny WilliamsRoberta Flack, and Nancy Wilson. He is also best known for penning the seminal soul classics such as "Compared To What", "Feel Like Makin' Love", and "Reverend Lee", as well as my personal favorite Esther Phillips song, "Disposable Society". Partners benefited from having a true soul man in the fold, as much as it benefited for having the exuberance of Scherrie and Susaye's intertwined harmonies.

Digging deeper into the album, you'll hear its funk undercurrents and attempts at curbing away from the gaudy pageantry that disco was becoming more and more associated with at this time. "Luv Bug" is a sly fox of a song, as it slinks in, with Ray Charles (!) coming into the fold to provide piano riffs and responses to Scherrie and Susaye's seductive propositions. Churning and burning, "I Found Another Love" features more electric diction from the duo, and while some may find there vocals 'over-cooked', I personally love their energy.

If a slower pace and sweeter ruminations is you vie for, then "You've Been Good To Me" is a tender love ballad that shivers with strings as it gets intimate. "Your Sweet Love" missed its opportunity to be a single, as it sways effortless with its touches of brass and its infectious doo-wop sensibilities.

Aside from "Your Sweet Love" and "Storybook Romance", I adore the hypnotic "In The Night". It's a really incredible slow burning joint, that begs for nighttime play only, though in the daytime its just as steamy.

The lack of success for Partners didn't stall Scherrie and Susaye, as they continued in the 1980s to write and record music, and have since reunited as "partners" for various Supremes events over the years. Still, Partners failures to capture the right audience shouldn't stand in the way of the record's enjoyment. Not just for Supremes completists but Scherrie & Susaye's Partners is also for the curious (like me!) who just want to revel in a little glamorous disco, and re-discover the many buried gems that the era so abundantly produced.

Rewind: Scherrie & Susaye Are 'Partners' In Glam Disco Crime

While the sharp stab of cool fronts and the aromatic sweet of pumpkin spice are announcing the rise of autumn, there is still nothing like reminiscing on the love(s) we had in summer. Muhsinah knows that we're all kind of jonesing for summer to return, I myself wish I could get a do-over on summer as mines just went by in a blur of boxes and empty pockets (note to self: never ever move again), but in some ways I can vicariously live through the what-could've-been as I catch some sonic rays with Muhsinah's calendar collection of summer joints.

Don't feel bad for not being aware of these EP drops (which are now available on Spotify and Apple Music) or for keeping tabs with Muhsinah's monthly project, as the D.C.-musician took advantage of summer's lazy days doling out these EP's at a more languid sprawl. In today's "binge-now, sleep later" culture it's nice to be able to take time with music like this, allowing each month to speak in the way it wants to. Short and sweet again are the collections, and all are flavored with Muhsinah's brand of hypnotique alt-soul. Only August is on that live vibe, as Muhsinah revives tracks from February, March, and April for a special live performance that was streamed live on August 10th at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Of the highlights? May has the rhythmically scathing "Rob", where Muhsinah bites the (static-y) beat as she dances all over the pieces of her broken heart. June and July share in carefree and bouncy bops with "Strawberry Moon" and the Alex Isley featured "High Road" being highlights. And "Careless" gets an acidic alt-rock make-over for its live-wire act.

So bring a little bit of that summer back into the flurry of falling leaves...and keep it close so you can thaw yourself out when winter rears its frosty head.

BONUS: And if you missed Muhsinah's live performance on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center because you were chilling and Netflixing too dang much this summer, then have at it via YouTube.

Liner Notes: Summer Of Muhsinah

'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.

It begins with the shivering swell of strings. The vocals soon slink into the fold, tinged with hymnal gospel tones, as it holy rolls in sensuous intent. Then, slicing into the warm interior of woodwinds comes scything percussion and rubberband snaps of bass, a lone trumpet begins to whine. What you hear are the beginning sounds of what is seven minutes and 21 seconds of sonic heaven. This heaven is "Mia Bocca" and it is fucking flawless.

"Mia Bocca", of course, wouldn't be flawless if it wasn't for Jill Jones.

Jill Jones, a talented singer and songwriter in her own right, was one of the brighter heavenly bodies that became ensnared in Prince's orbit during the 1980s, but whose glow (unfairly) dimmed out quicker than it should've. Before making our acquaintance with "Mia Bocca", she had waited in the purple wings for some time, as she met Prince in 1980 back when she was singing backup and writing material for Miss Ivory Queen of Soul herself, Teena Marie (Jill is responsible for co-writes on "Young Girl In Love" and "The Ballad Of Cradle Rob & Me").

When Jill moved to Minneapolis in 1982, she became an official part of the early inklings of the Revolution as she made memorable appearances in the iconic videos of "1999", "Little Red Corvette" and the lesser-seen "Automatic" as the elusive lingerie-clad 'lady cab driver', and as the waitress who questions the legitimacy of Apollonia Kotero's name in Purple Rain. Behind the scenes, her vocals went unaccredited on numerous associate projects such as albums for Vanity 6Apollonia 6, and Mazariti. It is also rumored that Jill was the inspiration behind "Raspberry Beret" b-side and fan favorite, "She's Always In My Hair".

At the time of her official coming out in 1987, Prince had had a near-perfect track record of formulating signature hits for others. The Bangles' "Manic Monday", Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls", Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl", Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life" and "A Love Bizarre" --- all of these singles had not only become huge hits, but in turn, gave either fresh first impressions or career boosts to their respective performers. Even Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You" proved that when a moderate Prince album cut was re-worked, it too could climb to the top of the charts in a blaze of flourish.

Jill Jones' "Mia Bocca" (which is Italian for "my mouth"), while unconventional in the sense of mainstream fare, also had flourish. It was erotic and sophisticated, as it was playful and funky with its uniqueness resting in the stacked electronic-meets-symphonic soundbed that is blessed with the legendary Clare Fischer's remarkable orchestral work. Like its sweeping structure, the lyricals too unfurl at a dreamy, whimsical pace as Jill gets caught up in her own cinematic paradiso, referencing Federico Fellini at one point, and linguistically twisting her tongue to coo in English and Italian as she struggles to give into desire and kiss her star-crossed suitor ("I'll pretend I'm in a movie"), when she in reality "loves another".

Drama, drama, drama.

As much as this is a Prince production, one that was first derived in 1982 during the recording sessions that gave us "Little Red Corvette" and "1999", Jill proves she can also 'steal the show' as she embodies every inch of this passionate revelry, right up to its 'climatic' end where after the fanfare blast of horns, Jill is spent on the bocca-to-bocca contact, a few puffs of a lighted cigarette no doubt the next course of action.

"Mia Bocca" is seduction, plain and simple, but seduction and even an art house visual directed by the photography legend Jean-Baptise Mondino, couldn't sway a listening public, as the song failed to connect Stateside and failed to gift Jill Jones with the chart-topping success of her protege peers.
The 'wholesome' warpath of Tipper Gore may be somewhat to blame for "Mia Bocca" to be blasted into sheer obscurity, as Jill stated in an 2013 interview with Beautiful Nights Blog"Tipper Gore was on our ass. (MTV) banned my video. They would only play it in the middle of the night, at 3 am. She directly impacted my life, she actually did in a weird way."

As "Mia Bocca" was her first impression, its suppression on radio and MTV also effected the lukewarm attitude directed towards Jill's self-titled debut, which is arguably one of the best, and most artistically adventurous of the protege efforts. Unlike Taja Sevelle's debut's, Prince's handprints are all over Jill Jones' slinky n' jazzy production, and it benefited from his avant-garde forays into experimental jazz, an era where Prince was utilizing more live instrumentation and was even more daring and metaphorical than ever before.

Jill Jones is the sexiest of the protege albums. One listen to the ABCs of carnal pleasure that are flirtatiously proposed on sax-heavy "G-Spot" will make you blush a bit, but get highly aroused at the same time. It also genre-bends a lot, as most Prince albums tend to do, but there is a thread of thematic and rhythmic cohesion on Jill Jones, with Jill's captive personality taking center stage, not following orders.

Lots of the songs take on a free-form vibe, with songs like "For Love" taking on the guise of funky jam session or "All Day, All Night" being a frantic, fiery romp that picks up where the live version of "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night" sweated, screamed, and sexed. But plenty of melodic moments are present and purr with sensuality like the jazz groove of "Violet Blue" and the horn-spackled blue light blusey of "Baby, You're A Trip", which revisits "Mia Bocca", musically and lyrically, wrapping the album up with some conceptual flair.

Though deliciously sound as Jill Jones was, the cultivation of it was a rough experience for Jones (she describes it as a "very long pregnancy"), and even worst, once the album was released, nobody knew what to do with it. As she told Beautiful Nights Blog:
I don't think everyone was ready for it. Radio wasn't looking for it. There's a rap convention in Atlanta that I went to and people came up to me saying "You're Black? I didn't know you were Black! I would've played your record." I just came back to Prince, like, "Should I just get a tan?" White people somehow knew I was Black and they said "I'm not playing that house Negro on the radio." The album was dead in the water.  
I think the album was a very intellectual album. We made a decision to take a lot of the poppy songs off. Once Clare Fisher puts the strings on it... I wanted to leave them on. That's where I sealed my fate to never have a hit record. 
Even Jill herself wasn't sure about the course of action towards her career, and in some ways felt as if Prince himself, didn't supply her with the surefire songs to propel her career. She doesn't hold back:
I opened for Jody Watley in LA and, seriously, the crowd just stood there whole time with their arms crossed. I was angry dancing. I was singing "G-Spot" and I was like "I'm not going to shake my ass." I know (on past tours) I would go out in my bra and panties, but, then I put on my trench coat and I'd leave. I just threw the mike down and walked off the stage. Prince came to me and said "Is that it, are you done?" Maybe he created the diva in me. 
(Prince) could have given me "The Glamorous Life". Sheila E. would come to the studio to play basketball and I did not know that the child was going in (to the studio) late at night and singing the songs.
As someone who spent her childhood with a Crayola marker in one hand crooning along to Mariah Carey songs, and from time to time dabbles in daydreams of headlining my own pyrotechnic spectacle of a concert tour, it's whenever I read about the music industry, its shaded corners and thorny practices, that I feel some relief that I took the practical route and picked up a pen and notebook instead. Of course, I have a singing voice that would make all types of flora and fauna wilt and decimate on site, but writing about the intricacies of music and its culture allows me to observe it from a safe and ample distance, understanding with every word I write that the music industry is one tough biscotti, where not everybody is meant to be a star, no matter what Sly said.

Even with the music and all of her magnetism, Jill Jones seemed to get a very raw deal in the end. After Jill Jones' promotional failure, and creative differences arose between Prince and Jill during recording sessions for a follow-up, Jill's contract with Paisley Park quietly expired in the early 1990s. Her story is quite the lesson to learn, if you so ever feel like diving into the feral wilderness that is fame and fortune, in that you'll realize that not everything in this life is guaranteed.

Still whatever were the mis-communications, disappointments, and missed chances, Jill Jones should be honored that the epicness of "Mia Bocca" and the classically provocative Jill Jones is hers to own. Cause nobody could make seven minutes and 21 seconds of heaven like this again:

Purple Women: Lessons In Sensual Anatomy & Music Industry Mayhem With Jill Jones

They say that love is supposed to make you stronger, but on Emeli Sandé's latest slice of sound, she proves that sometimes being in love can have you writhing in sheer agony. A toxic romance is where Sandé finds herself, but she's not going quiet as "Hurts" is her dramatic confessional of being dangerously in love, and the result is about as blistering and savage as Colin Powell's e-mails --- erm, well, with much more melodic fire and a lot less political pettiness. 

I didn't realize it has been four years since Miss Sandé released her acclaimed debut, Our Version Of Events, but here we are and soon its follow-up Long Live The Angels will be making its appearance before the year is up. Honestly, I wasn't a huge fan of OVOE, even though its lead-off single, "Heaven" snatched my soul with its Massive Attack-esque epicness. "Hurts" reminds me of "Heaven", as it brings on the heartache and raises the gooseflesh with its uprising of cinematic strings, claps, and towering gospel backing, and Sandé spitting out a couple of swears now and then (she says "shit"...a lot) but doing it so tastefully that it's almost...poetic.

Nelly Furtado - Islands Of Me 

Though I'm a bit sadden that the 'palette cleanser' "Behind Your Back" won't be featured on Miss Furtado's forthcoming 2017 release of The Ride, but "Islands Of Me", the album's official first single, is a nice frolic into synth-ville that gives us a strong preview of what's to come. 

Furtado's lost weekends with Dev Hynes have been paying off as Furtado seems to be tapping into the homespun off-kilter vibe she made her forte when she flew in 'like a bird' back at the turn of the millennium. Even though those Timbaland-Loose years were a great look for her (yes, Loose is fantastic album, I didn't stutter...), on "Islands Of Me" she sounds like she's chasing herself, not a trend. It's not ZOMG amazing, but I like the urgency of this track and its reflective lyricals cause sometimes you just need to put down the script and get back to self, and that is sometimes the realest offering you can gift yourself.  

AlunaGeorge - Mediator

It's always a sad moment when I cannot engage into an album, no matter how many listens I give it, especially an album from an artist that I enjoy. Maybe I need more time to marinate in the grooves, but the Briton duo's sophomore set, I Remember, hasn't exactly charmed me. Though I'm quite the tough customer to woo, I appreciate that the duo decided not to play safe for their second go-round, and instead expand their electronic sound and experiment. One song that gave me an eyebrow raise was "Mediator", a twilight jam that doesn't play safe at all, even though it's about as leisured as can be due to its lush quiet storm groove and heavy dosage of strings.

The track's subject matter on the other hand isn't as chillaxed, as Aluna Francis waxes from a bluesy disposition about her coming to the aid of a romance-wrecked friend, offering wine, a little smoke, and a shoulder to cry on as most good friends do.

Kherya - Spring Cleaning

The opening verses in this track are the Sometimes you just gotta weed out, scrub out, and sanitize all the negativity, and all the people, places and things that aren't allowing you to put your best foot forward. Kherya shows you the way on "Spring Cleaning", giving you the unfiltered and unapologetic truth of what it means to totally detox your inner circle.

Kherya is a newcomer to the R&B game, hailing from the small town of Sedalia, Missouri and with one album to her name (last year's Take Flight), but she's not small in voice as on "Spring Cleaning" she belts out with effortless conviction. Of course the first thing that came to mind when I first heard this was: This is sooooo Mary J. Blige-y. But I think that's a compliment, considering that I was in the mood for a little nostalgia this side of My Life. "Spring Cleaning" won't dethrone "Be Happy" as the call-for-self-care anthem, but it still rests in a timeless message about getting over and under bullshit and having the scars and the regained self-esteem to prove it.

Lulu James - Falling

Like Nelly Furtado and Kherya, Lulu James is also on that self-preservation tip as her artful DJ Simbad-produced single, "Falling" is a breathtaking survey of what it means to be caught up in the one-sided love affair and losing all sense along with it. Oh, this track is a heartbreaker alright, but it has a happy ending, as in the midst of viewing the wreckage her heart has made, James emerges, and rebuilds, learning from her 'fall' to regain back her sense of self.

An elegant hymn is what this song feels like as it ascends in an echo chamber of thematic vocals and repeated refrains, this true to the cosmic chicness of James' "21st Century Soul", a sound that I've been a fan of since indulging in singles like 2013's "Sweetest Thing" and 2014's "Beautiful People". 2017 could finally be the year people covet Lulu James as a soul-ist for the future, and with "Falling" that sentiment is more fact than fiction as can be.

All The Single Ladies: Week #3 - Emeli Sandé, Nelly Furtado, AlunaGeorge, Kherya & Lulu James

What I like --- no love --- about Shura's Nothing's Real is that it sounds familiar.

Okay, fair, it is largely compiled with songs that introduced the Manchester native to the masses over the course of two years, but aside from its recognized tracklist, Nothing's Real evokes a sound 20-years its senior. One listen and you'll hear the familiar sounds of cagey drums and processed guitar beds, hear how it sophisti-pops and cosmic climbs to the keytar heavens. Nothing's Real wears the 1980s like the yuppie-lush Member's Only jacket that it is, unapologetically.

Still what might cause an eyebrow to raise is that Nothing's Real is a Millennial's reflection of the era. All of what's on here is second-hand nostalgia that is vicariously lived through Molly Ringwald's eyes, as Shura is 25 years young, and didn't even breathe a breath in the decade she captures right down to the neon piping and its fraught kinetics. She's so detailed, so dead-on that you wonder if Shura has had some sort of collision with the time-space continuum, and she's either time traveling or she's older than she's actually stating, on that immortal-being steez.

Well, whether its cosmic intervention or just a loving appreciation for the New Wave oeuvre (I'm going with the latter), Shura isn't alone with wanting to stop the world and melt oh-so-'80s. Nothing's Real aligns itself with a galaxy of 'Millennial' alt-pop albums (HAIM's Days Are Gone, La Roux's 2009 self-titled debut, Blood Orange's Cupid's Deluxe, and Ladyhawke's 2008 self-title debut for starters) that turn back the clock and talk its strident synth-pop talk so much you expect Pretty In Pink's Andie and Duckie to walk into prom hand-in-hand with it blaring in the background.

Shameless it all is, but Nothing's Real while marinated in the processed synth n' splendor and reading from the textbook of every John Hughes high school drama ever, doesn't feel like its exploring the sound because Shura is getting her Columbus on. She's not stating with this that she eureka! discovered how to work synths and programmers like a Baby Howard Jones, but more so she's giving credence to it timelessness, and noticing how well the past can work in the present.

Nothing's Real also basks in its archetypal Britishness, as its theatrical and examines matters of the heart with allegorical and anthropological flair this side of ABC and Spandau Ballet, digging deeper than what is on the plasticity of its pop veneer. The opening title track is epic in the sense of its dramatic instrumental entrance with shooting star synths, sweep of strings, echoing Duran Duran and ABC's sensibility to combine Chic with Roxy Music. The glorious back-to-back duo of "Tongue Tied" and "Make It Up" owes itself to the languid lullabies and thatched drumwork of Teases & Dares-era Kim Wilde. And for just a spell Shura hops a flight across the Atlantic to the City of Angels as the effervescent "What's It Gonna Be?" swings in the Cali harmonies of Lindsey Buckingham, and "What Happened To Us?" is ocean sprayed The Bangles style.

Contrary to its make-up, the bulk of the album doesn't lean on nostalgic bombast in order to get the point across. Shura is keen to pull back on her catch-all synth sound so as to not have it shield her heart. She bears it, bloodletting, exposing how it thwarts with her brain's practicality, and we have a front row seat to all the intimate, but awkward blushing and conflicting nail biting.

As she's looking back sonically, Shura's also looking back at relationships past, and aside from being in the throws of affectionate afterglow, she's examining her faults, trying to configure what went wrong and where she fits in the aftermath. On debut single, "Touch", she falls head first into love, but when past histories begin to unfurl, she's suspended, in limbo, trying to read between loves lines, angles and rhymes. Her wistfulness is felt on "What Happened To Us?", a song that also sounds more Gwen Stefani than Gwen Stefani does these days, is impassioned, as she views a past love from afar, debating on if she should confront them, forgoing it in the end since they were "peacefully reading a magazine". On "Kidz N' Stuff" she has a Sliding Doors moment, imagining the familial set-up she would've had if the breakup hadn't endured.

She's also aware of the relationship within herself, as she states on "What Happened To Us?" "she's no child, but she doesn't feel grown up" (Girl, I feel ya...), fearing age and trying to embrace it in one salty gulp. Age doesn't usher in insta-wisdom, that type of enlighten plane you have work at reaching and Shura is well, like most Millennials in their twenties, a bit peeved that everything from streaming movies and app downloads are fast-paced and yet, here you are in fucking slow motion.

The journey to adult is arduous and long, and Shura sighs and wades trough the indecisiveness, the unreciprocated love ("Indecision"), the false fronts and lies she tells herself to keep going ("Tongue-Tied"), and even revisits the false alarm panic attack that drew the inspiration for the album's title, and really its overall theme, complete with a recording of her three-year-old self screaming because that's how you feel at twenty-something ---- you feel like wailing, baby style. The pithy response to such internal struggle is always done in a passive tone, that your perception to life's speed bumps is that it's all mental, not even there. Shura isn't here for that kind of talk, as she told FADER in an interview, such talk "[Is]meant to be comforting, but it’s not. Like, 'So I feel like I’m dying, but I'm fine?' It's antagonistic—like how I used to say 'pull yourself together' to my friends who were struggling." It's pure deflection talk, because the growing pains are for real, the butterflies in the stomach flutter are real, and the awkwardness that burns on the back of the neck is real, and Shura sees it, understands it to her limits, and pegs it all dead on.

As if coming of age in 1980s nostalgia was grand statement enough, Shura achieves an unthinkable feat by also re-purposing the sounds and aesthetics of the decade's two biggest diva disciples, which are none other than: Janet Jackson and Madonna.

Bold the attempt is, but Shura avoids stumbling face-first into such a task by not aping their sounds outright, as she cherry-picks particular elements, and then builds off of them. "2Shy"captures the tender vulnerability of Control-era Janet in its careful craft, and what she lacks in spunky kittenish bravado, Shura incorporates Janet's sense of enigmatic sensuality, getting it just at the fine tip of the R&B legend. And if I was to draw parallels, Nothing's Real and Janet's coming-of-age opus Control are perfect examples of how to turn the kicks and screams into adulthood into legitimate, danceable art.

As for Madonna, Shura has targeted her early days back when she was young, hungry, and was re-fashioning disco for a new era with a bright red lipsticked smile, as "Indecision" has that "Holiday" je ne sai quoi, it swinging with joyous lift like the multiple crucifixes that adorned the Material Girl's neck at one time.

As the landscape of this album is epic in scope, you'd assume that Shura had a slew of producers on board to assist, but aside from Greg Kurstin popping his head in to produce a few numbers, the rest of the album is co-produced and handled by Shura. With Athlete frontman, Joel Pott at her side, Shura plays keyboards and compiles the beats, making this larger than life album, an intimate affair figuratively.

When I use words like 'intimate' and 'familiar', I mean it. Nothing's Real is an album that for all of its vicariously lived nostalgia, its discussions of being detached in relationships, and Shura going out of body to do autopsies on herself, this is and album that feels faithful to self, to life, to growing up and being in a mixed cocktail of emotion about it. These sounds, these feelings, these are Shura's...and they are well, myself, and everybody who has come to that craggy mountain climb called adulthood.

Shura may not be a child, and she may not feel grown up yet, but with her exceptional debut, she sure as hell has accurately and intelligently framed the various snapshots of what it's like to stumble into adulthood, but still have hope alive enough to dance within its dissipating quicksand.

+ Nothing's Real is available to purchase via Apple Music and stream via Spotify 

Liner Notes: Shura Comes Of Age 21st Century Style In 1980s Nostalgia

'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.  

When Prince's music moves at a slower cadence it can go in several directions: babymakers, jazzy cool downs, power ballads, baroque waltzes, sedative spoken narratives --- the range is extensive. But true to Prince's artistic oeuvre, they weren't your typical forays into those recognizable markers. He put lots of distances between him and the bombastic, showy tunes that are often prominent in pop balladry.

Of the classic cases, "Sometimes It Snows In April" comes to immediate mind at how Prince's melancholia can stir deep-seeded emotion in the art pop frame, and considering current events, it eerily sounds as if Prince wrote his own eulogy. "Purple Rain" is the power ballad to end all power ballads, and about the most fragile and heartbreaking apology letter set to a guitar that doesn't gently weeps, but instead howls. Then there is "Adore" a slightly overdrawn lover's declaration that is an anomaly these days as not many men sing about women like that anymore.

On another spectrum of Prince's ballads is "Love...Thy Will Be Done" and to be fair, the song isn't a 'full-tilt Prince' song as credit needs to go to its main performer, Martika.

Martika is a name that doesn't get mentioned much these days, but in terms of the younger pop diva set of the late 1980s, she had edge that Tiffany and Debbie Gibson couldn't even dream of buying at the shopping mall. Chewed the sugary bubblegum, Martika didn't, as she successfully pushed those Kids Incorporated days behind her when she dropped her 1989 self-titled debut. After having huge success with "Toy Soldiers", her pensive pop single concerning drug addiction and domestic turmoil (like I said, the girl was deep...), Martika threw a artistic curveball when she asked Prince to collaborate with her on her sophomore release. Prince ended up writing and producing four songs for 1991's Martika's Kitchen, of the four, "Love...Thy Will Be Done" became the most prolific.

A top 10 hit it was, but it was successful on the grounds that Martika made the seamless transition into a maturing pop mindset. Of course Prince's backing helped a bunch, but Martika always had her turn signal geared for a more cognitive lane, if you listen to her debut, it was obvious, in her day, she was a Jazmine Sullivan competing in a sea of Rihannas. "Love...Thy Will Be Done" steered her into FM Land, and its not a bad spot to be, but for the spunky, artistically eclectic image Martika was pushing with Martika's Kitchen, "Love..." wasn't meant to play softly in the background of your Grandma's Bingo Night. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

"Love...Thy Will Be Done" functions in a similar vein as Prince's "The Beautiful Ones". Of course they are dissimilar as day and night, but as transitional ballads for their performers they had some commonality. They are both love ballads that are sparse and meditative, but both melt warm in gospel-tinged intensity by way of its vocal structure, but "Love..." takes less time to sing what's off the top of the heart than "Beautiful", and is a little less ornamented, less dark, as it never truly climaxes, just stays on an even passion-fueled flow. Even in its sparseness, "Love..." cloud rolls on an unwavering drum and bass backing, and it chants and whispers like a prayer, and it comes as no surprise that the song was originally designed that way.

As pop singer Martika tells it, she had written a few lines of a prayer in her lyric notebook, and it was this notebook that ended up in Prince's possession after she visited with him at Paisley Park.

I showed him some of my stuff and he said 'would you mind if I borrow your book for a few hours'. I said 'cool, no problems'. He asked if he could photocopy a few things that he liked and I had no problem with that. I had no idea what the process for collaborating on music with him would be because it is always different with everybody. For him, he said 'I have photocopied a few things. Why don’t you just let me live with this for a bit and we’ll go from there'. So I flew home to L.A.

About a week later, Martika received a fax with the reworked lyrics, and on the following day a cassette tape arrived in the mail with the backing music. From there Martika fleshed out the remainder of the song with her production team, and the rest is well, music history.

"Love..." would become a signature song for Martika, locking arms with "Toy Soldiers", and Prince would also incorporate the song into his live sets from time to time. The song was also slated to appear on the soundtrack for Baz Lurhmann's 2013 production of The Great Gatsby, with Prince overseeing the entire project, but unfortunately wires were crossed and the idea scratched (Jay Z ended up taking over production in the end...but I don't think either Prince nor Jay Z could've saved that mess of a movie). Jessie Ware recently breathed some life into it with her humble version, and even she knew better than to go too far left-field with it, because truly the song is perfect as is and in no need of further experiment.

I usually don't like saying things are 'perfect', it's a word that was banned in my household as my mother disliked it (cause "nothing is 'perfect'" as she often says, and well, she's right...), but I can't think of a more complete love song. Okay, maybe I can if you gave me a few hours, but right now, "Love..." is just so damn complete that it makes me long for the days when ballads were events too, not something you skip over to get to the danceable stuff. I love how "Love..." is not extravagant, erotic or even structurally intricate, it is what it is, and it's beautiful.

"Love..." was in good company on Martika's Kitchen. I can think of many underrated albums, but Martika's Kitchen is right up there with the most underrated of them all. To use cooking cliches, it sizzles, steams, and is deep-fried in comfort pop-funk goodness. You leave the table full when you listen to the whole thing, and I always go back for seconds, thirds cause you can burn all the calories off by dancing around to most of it! Seriously, its one of the most fun pop records you can find.

Not only is it fulfilling on a sonic level, it's socially topical in its lyricals so you don't feel like you gorged on fluff. Present are songs about struggling young motherhood ("Broken Heart") and fighting for love and sexual pride amid bigotry ("Pride & Prejudice"). The legendary Celia Cruz comes on board for "Mi Tierra", an impassioned Spanglish song that embodies bold brass and slews of Spanish guitars as it discusses the pains of Cuban-American immigrants inability to visit their homeland. Like I said, Martika was a helluva more aware than her pop peers, making the personal political.

Still the album's main highlights are those Prince features. "Spirit" thumps around joyously in House elements, and softball New Jack rears on its funky title track and the should-of-been-a-single, "Don't Say You Love Me", where if you listen close Prince can be heard in the background. The Eastern influence of "A Magical Place" taps into the psychedelic pop-rock of the Around The World In A Day era, and to this day, I'm amazed how it wasn't a product of the Paisley Park, but since Prince liked to slink into the background and go incognito on recordings he saw fit, I'm going to throw that song into the bundle.

But of all its highlights, the crown jewel on Martika's Kitchen remains "Love...Thy Will Be Done". Prince gave the song its shade and its color, but Martika never lets herself be overshadowed on it --- it's her song, through and through, and a pleasing part of the "purple" feast.

Purple Women: Martika Serves Up Pop-Funk Comfort Food With Prince In Her 'Kitchen'

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

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