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 truth.com. 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


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'

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