Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Leela James - My Soul - 2010 - Stax

From the outset I'll have to admit to not being a great fan of Leela James, but only because I get so damn frustrated when I hear an artist with such potential who doesn't even come close to utilising it. Her recent cover versions set for Shanachie left me stone cold and earlier urban efforts have not been my cup of tea at all in any respect. This album has made me more receptive, however, as the second half of the album is very retro and funky indeed as opposed to the Akon / Mary J. Blige / whoever etc-like tunes that swill around the first half of the set. I suppose younger ears will appreciate this urban, programmed, beat-laden street stuff but for the more trained, adult ear i suspect this will be just yet another homegirl R&B selection. Leela proves that she is better than this and waits until track 5 to show us her real worth with the Marvin Gaye-ish "Party All Night" of the Legend's funkier 70s sounds will really connect with this song! The gentler "Tell Me You Love Me" which, admittedly relies on a sweet soul sample, complete with strings but is totally winsome in every respect. Reminding me of the more grown-up efforts from Angie Stone's last set, and in the mode of fellow Stax-ette N'Dambi I would heartily recommend a purchase of this album on this track alone. This really is superior material and Leela James proves to me that she has the power within her to shine as a proper artist in the traditional mould.

That track was great enough, but I was totally won over by the screamingly 60s effort "Let It Roll", where Leela lets rip in a real Gwen McCrae mode. This track should even make Northern fans sit up and take notice - and that's a damn good thing in my book. Leela James is stripping down the crass R&B for bling-infested teenagers and is taking it back to the roots. A huge round of applause for that! "Supa Lover" with it's freaky keyboards and strings is another winning inclusion - the warm keyboards and her wispy, smoky vocals atop this are excellent. Leela returns to the teeny R&B sound with "If It's Wrong", sounding very much like a modern Mary J. Blige effort and again plumbs for a ephemeral style on "It's Over". This is a pity as it marrs what was a very string of songs. Though I would not normally bother reviewing a set with only three worthwhile songs these really are good songs and should appeal to grown-up ears, giving us an insight into what real talent Leela James has, and what I certainly hope to hear from her - and her new label - next time around.

Barry Towler
The Vibe Scribe