Liner Notes: Tamia Brings Intimacy & Maturity Back To R&B With 'Love Life'

As a single lady who at times sucks their teeth at public displays of affection and avoids the bouquet at wedding receptions (hey that rhymed!), sometimes I find it in the little crevasses of my chilly heart to feel happy for two people who happened to fall in love with one another and decide to build a life together off of that love. Sure, there are a lot of 'smug married couples' out there, but Tamia and Grant Hill aren't near that bracket. Going on for sixteen sweet years, the two are one of the quieter celebrity power couples around as they opt to stray far and away from the much vaunted shows of unity of their peers, proving that civility and privacy can occurrences in Hollyweird. While Tamia has waxed a little poetic about the strong ties that bind her and Hill before, she hasn't truly touched upon her marriage with the type of intimacy that will raise an eyebrow or have you feeling a little heat from under your collar.

Well, not till now...

Marking 20 years of Tamia being rooted in the R&B game, Love Life is a conceptual piece that unfolds the rapport shared between a man and a woman, focusing not on the break-ups, but all the make-ups that come out of them. Tamia has enriched R&B with hits such as "So Into You", "Stranger In My House" and "Officially Missing You", smoldering sweetly alongside but away from powerhouse Gospel tones of Deborah Cox and the smoky sensuality of Toni Braxton with a variant catalog that had her trekking down an acoustic country road for 2013's A Beautiful Surprise last we checked in, but with Love Life Tamia approaches R&B anew, and from an even cooler and calming grown-up perspective than previous.

"Sandwich And A Soda" was the first inkling of the shift as the Pop & Oak produced track brings spark to flame, giving food for thought on that old aphorism of a way to a man's heart is through his stomach. It's a definite highlight as it rims on the blues with its bass-lines and stabs of squealing organ, Tamia singing a whispery seductive ruse that's naughty, but plays really nice as she teases: "If you wanna ride these curves, hop on this Chevy Nova, and if you gonna drive with nerve, baby I'm gon' be your chauffeur".

After you dine out on "Sandwich and A Soda", the strong synth-y slow burning opener, "Love Falls Over Me" and the Polow Da Don rendered steamy slow jam, "Stuck With Me" are some of the strongest material Tamia has wrapped her velveteen vocals around in years. Fresh out the gate future single choices like the fizzy "Nowhere" and "Like You Do" are also standouts with Tamia walking well between grown and sexy, while still maintaining a radio ready sound. Though the mercury does rise and rise in all the right moments, Love Life is probably the tamest mainstream R&B album I've heard this year, and in a big way, that is a compliment.

R&B has always been of a seductive nature, but in the last few years or so overt sexuality has taken over the genre's prime narrative, diluting a lot of its intimacy and spontaneity. What goes on in the boudoir is now common knowledge leaving no room for titillating foreplay or tease. Women are also more uninhibited to own their sexual agency as they bluntly discuss what makes their kitty kat meow. While this is all fine and dandy for us singletons, married couples usually aren't allowed this type of expression.

We've all seen it happen, once someone gets married and has kids, these conversations and bold declarations dry up, all of the intrigue and eroticism vanishes. Who cares about love when they become 'smug married couples'? We want scandal and erotic lust, dish flinging drama and 'where have all the good men gone' laments. The cast of characters in Tama's world warrants this type of dramatic storyline as you've got an R&B star married to a former NBA star --- the pen doesn't whip out fast enough to write the script for this particular reality show.

Tamia does a refreshing thing though, she instead sweetly thwarts this stereotype as she gives us an alternative view of a love affair, how marriage can be happy and healthy, but just as tantalizing and spontaneous since the day the vows were exchanged. That time doesn't wear down the lovey-dovey, but keeps it soaring, strengthening the bond. Love Life is a nice aural vacation from the usual R&B script, deciding instead to bask in old school sensibility, positioning the genre as the steamy and spunkier younger sister to soul it always was. With such one syllable names like Tinashe and Kelela who burn their blunts over their tear-stained pillows, Tamia has 20 years on them and knows a thing or two about how to work a groove, a lyric, a feeling, and when she gets into tracks like "Lipstick" and "Caise Lounge", she is still just as captivating and sensual as when she eased into the scene as one of Quincy Jones' proteges with the 1995 single, "You Put A Move On My Heart". She's not as innocent, that's obvious, but she's still aware that there are stark differences between lovemaking and what is just plain sex.

The only attempt to step outside of the bedroom is when Tamia let's out a jazzy rendition of Deniece Williams' 1984 single, "Black Butterfly". While the track doesn't fit in the narrative of matrimonial bliss, it is an admirable and intelligent reading, that shakes some dust off of the R&B classic (which happens to be one of my personal favorites from Miss Niecy) as it retains the shivering spine tingle of the track's chorus, bringing it's moving message to new heights: "Black Butterfly, sailed across the waters tell your sons and daughters what the struggle brings, Black Butterfly, set the skies on fire, rise up even higher, so the ageless winds of time can catch your wings." Just gorgeous.

While overall not musically challenging, Love Life's serves class and exudes sex appeal with one little flirty wink, its charm resting in its interest to flip back in time to past eras of quieter, soulful storms, where subtlety was key, and where tease and foreplay were treasured. It's a nice little reminder that the act of love, no matter the phase, can still be a timeless and fun pursuit.

+ Love Life is available for download and purchase via iTunes, and available for streaming via Spotify
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