Estelle, True Romance © Established 1980 : BMG Rights Management

3 Takeaways From Estelle’s ‘True Romance’

Estelle, True Romance © Established 1980 / BMG Rights Management

Estelle • True Romance • Established 1980 / BMG Rights Management • US Release Date: February 17, 2015

After a three-year break, Estelle returned with her fourth studio album, True Romance, released via Established 1980 / BMG Management Rights. Estelle’s claim to fame stateside has been one particular song, “American Boy,” from her sophomore album Shine. Since Shine arrived back in 2008, it is no secret that the Grammy-winning musician hasn’t had the same traction. But that’s the state of the music business. Nonetheless, True Romance has some truly exceptional moments, and here are three quick takeaways!

1) Estelle’s Voice Shines 

One of the best moments of True Romance comes by way of “Conqueror,” a big ballad that also happened to be featured in the motion picture Addicted. Yes, the film sucked, but the song should be a prime example for anybody who didn’t think Estelle could hang with the elite vocally. She flat out kills it!

2) References To S-E…

We all knew that Estelle was going to talk about the three-letter word when “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” first came out. Risqué to the nth degree and steamy as a four-letter word that is synonymous with the title of the featured song, “Make Her Say” leaves nothing to the imagination. For good measure on “Time Share,” she continues discussing ‘lovemaking.’

3) Stylistically Diverse

Throughout its course, True Romance incorporates a little bit of everything. On “Make Her Say (Beat It Up)” she goes for the minimalist, hip-hop sound, while “Something Good /Devotion (Passion Interlude)” is dance joint. “Silly Girls” is retro-soul at its finest, while “She Will Love” incorporates reggae. Of course crown jewel “Conqueror” is a big, inspirational, adult contemporary R&B ballad. Restless you might say, Estelle tries lots of different things and comes out on top.

There’s more to note about True Romance, whether it’s themes of love, heartbreak, or ‘conquering.’ But this brief takeaways post should be enough to whet your palate, or of course check out my alluring, captivating, extraordinary review here – or not, LOL.

Tinashe, Aquarius © RCA

Tinashe Delivers A Solid Contemporary R&B Debut On ‘Aquarius’

Tinashe, Aquarius © RCA

Tinashe • Aquarius • RCA • US Release Date: October 7, 2014 

Breaking through as a new R&B artist seems like a cruel joke these days…just keeping it real. That said, Tinashe definitely has something to offer to the urban music world. Sure, the eagerness to purchase and wholeheartedly promote R&B is incredibly ‘cool’ as of late, but Tinashe definitely shows why she is deserving of the T.L.C. that promoting a debut album requires. Aquarius is a well-rounded, enjoyable album that balances the club, the bedroom, and relationships. Tinashe is a parts Janet Jackson, Ciara, Kelly Rowland, and Jhené Aiko.

Rightfully, title-track “Aquarius” initiate’s the affair. Tinashe’s cool vocal performance on the opener shines, even though she shows incredible reserve and restraint. “Bet” follows, featuring Devonté Hynes. Slickly produced and infused with modern/alternative R&B cues – not to mention some enigma – Tinashe shines, particularly as she ascends to her upper register. “Pay no mind to what the doubters all say / I’mma be around for ever, always / you can bet on it.” 

“Cold Sweat” is a moody ‘grinder,’ like “Bet” clocking in at over five minutes in duration. Even at its subtlest, “Cold Sweat” has bite and grit. Like “Bet” it’s a bit nebulous in sound, but this quality actually bodes well for Tinashe on Aquarius. By the end though, Tinashe does project some – you go girl!

Following “Nightfall (Interlude)” (“Oh sh*t I’m way 2 on”), Tinashe’s big-time hit “2 On,” featuring Schoolboy Q, shines. As always – after ever spin that is – Tinashe always manages to “get 2 on” every time. For those still in the dark what “2 On” is about, basically Tinashe gets too ‘turnt up’ – too wasted.

“How many times can we make love in one night?” Well, that’s the question Tinashe ask on “How Many Times” featuring Future. While the question is never answered, the impression given is that Tinashe and Future are in it for the long haul (“We’re having breakfast in the bed / know I love the way you scramble in the sheets”). Could’ve done without Future’s nipple reference, but to each his own!

The album’s second interlude, “What Is There To Lose (Interlude),” precedes another pre-release joint, “Pretend” featuring A$AP Rocky. Here, “Pretend” seems to glorify the physical component of the relationship while eschewing the emotional aspects of the relationship. Sure it’s delusional in the long run, but this is a scenario that happens worldwide everyday. 

“All Hands on Deck” is another sound and enjoyable track. That said, if there’s one rub, it’s that it sounds too similar to the bigger, better “2 On.” Sure “2 On” is about being drunk and “All Hands on Deck” is sex and more sex, but until a contrasting bridge, this slinky jam has much in common with the former.

The moody, weighty “Indigo Child (Interlude)” precedes “Far Side of the Moon,” a song that finds Tinashe confused about DING* DING* DING! L-O-V-E! “So damn jaded / this uncertainty is so frustrating… I’m too old for all these games we playing.” The best line of Tinashe’s moon expedition – “Happy ever after seems like fiction.” Actually strike that, it’s “But I ain’t like these other women / No I, I ain’t really f*cking with it.”

Unsurprisingly, the umpteenth interlude (“The Calm (Interlude)”) prefaces a song, this time “Feels Like Vegas.” Apparently, Vegas is synonymous with sex, judging by Tinashe’s enthusiasm throughout this sensual number. “How you like it, throw me on the bed,” Tinashe sings inspired on the second verse, continuing, “Show me how, to love you the right way, hey / when you’re runnin’, and I just can’t take no more / you go even harder and we end up on the floor.” Girl, you Sooooooo nasty!

“Thug Cry” sounds like a hit from the jump – and that’s usually the sign of a ‘hit.’ Featuring sensational vocals (contextually), “Thug Cry” is fresh, pleasant, and a notable slice of the Aquarius pie. Quite rich, sweet, and filled with fat and calories…


A photo posted by TINASHE (@tinashenow) on

Guess what comes prior to “Bated Breath” – “Deep in the Night (Interlude)!” Shocker, of course! Anyways, on the excellently titled ballad, Tinashe takes her time, letting the listener experience the emotion of it all through the lethargy of the track. Even if it’s too dragged out and Tinashe is “too faded,” the overall vibe definitely captures R&B music of present. One pro is that Tinashe shows her vocal versatility. “Wildfire” serves as the set’s spirited penultimate track, followed by closer “The Storm (Outro).”

Overall, Aquarius ends up being a solid, much better than expected contemporary R&B album. With so much of contemporary R&B being predictable, Tinashe does enough to separate herself. Yeah she enjoys her sex and bubbly, but ultimately, she’s impressive on album one.

P.S. – You can find a shorter, ‘highlights’ take of this review at Urban Music Eternal

Favorites: “Bet,” “2 On,” “How Many Times,” “Pretend,” “Thug Cry”


Photo credits: © RCA, Instagram/tinashenow

Review: Ledisi, ‘The Truth’


Ledisi unleashes more contemporary R&B moments on The Truth

Ledisi • The Truth • Verve • US Release Date: March 11, 2014

Ledisi4-20140110-222Ledisi Young is one of more talented R&B singers of present times, period.  Honestly, the 41-year old artist has nothing short of extraordinary, soulful pipes; the passion translates easily. Even so, being talented doesn’t necessarily convert to exceptional commercial fortunes, as numerous artists – particularly urban artists – know all too well.  Ledisi did manage to debut in the top ten of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart when 2012 LP Pieces of Me bowed at number eight with 36,000 copies sold.  How her sixth studio album The Truth will ultimately be received commercially after it’s all said and done is questionable, but critically, The Truth is another well-conceived effort from the singer.  In fact, Ledisi opts for more contemporary R&B tunes here, something of a departure.  Don’t get it twisted, she’s not suddenly morphed into Beyoncé, but Ledisi keeps things fresh.

I Blame You” opens with album with an adult contemporary R&B sound, not completely dissimilar stylistically to “Pieces of Me” or much of her previous album of the same title as a whole.  It isn’t until the bridge of “I Blame You” that shades of jazziness appear into the picture, where the harmonic progression truly drives the sentiment.  Vocally a ‘beast’, Ledisi is always most potent when she kicks into her soaring upper register, something she does here to bring home the accusatory opener.  Nearly matching the level of quality, “Rock With You” is the first notion of more contemporary fare from Ledisi.  It’s not quite the tour de force of the opener, but its well produced and does give the artist a different look.

Ledisi1-20140313-70That Good Good” is even more of a stretch stylistically, employing gimmickry from the onset, also conveyed through repetitious lyrics: “I’m the type of woman, woman, woman…” A legitimate question asked while listening to this is, has Ledisi ever sung over an 808 before?  Where this is or isn’t her first time, “That Good Good” ends up being more effective than one would expect judging Ledisi’s earlier work.  Even if one is secretly thinking “sellout”, there is plenty of excellent, sassy lyrical moments to absorb, whether it’s “I’m the type of woman / know what she wants and / ain’t afraid to say what I need” (Verse one) or “Your time your touch boy give me that affection / I need your attention” (pre-chorus).  Honestly, since Ledisi is referencing lovemaking, is a grooving banger so far-fetched?  If it is, the slower, seductive “Lose Control” is more of Ledisi’s niche – artistic lane if you will.  She’s still talking about sex, but she’s classier on “Lose Control”.  Hey, she’s a grown woman!

Like This” switches gears to a more neo-soul approach, with the throwback vibe perfectly suiting the singer. Even though it references the past it is no anachronism; it still retains hipness.  In addition to a sub-style switch, Ledisi also trades the physical for the emotional side of the relationship: “I can’t love you like this…when we argue like this… I can’t love you like this.” Again, Ledisi let’s her upper register shines and cut through exceptionally on her ad-libs.   Neo-soul doesn’t last for long as “Anything” shockingly begins with enthusiastic synths – unexpected by all means.  While the synths are off-putting on a Ledisi album, eventually things settle in.  Again, the ‘look’ is fresh, giving Ledisi a pop-R&B vibe.  “Anything” isn’t the cream of the crop of The Truth, but its no deal-breaker either.  If nothing else, there are some special lyrical highlights, most notably “Love means anyone who tries to curse you / by default they’re cursing me too.” Oh and the electric guitar solo is definitely on-point.

Ledisi-ZNV-002513Titular track “The Truth” is worth the wait, landing at number seven on the track list.  “The Truth” benefits from its production, which includes synthesized vocal synths at the onset.  The harmonic underpinnings also make “The Truth” special, particularly the colorful quirks.  And what is the truth – “I don’t wanna be lonely / don’t wanna spend a lifetime to make you mine / it’s time to face the truth / the truth about me and you…”  “Missy Doubt” is definitely interesting, giving the singer an in your face sort of a track.  Ledisi does awesomely with funk, though “Missy Doubt” isn’t a personal favorite. Conceptually though, Ledisi has something working here despite slightly flawed execution.

88 Boxes” more than atones for the question marks left proceeding “Missy Doubt”.  If “Missy Doubt” had a good concept going, “88 Boxes” has an even better one.  Basically, Ledisi feels as if her relationship – her life – has become nothing but bLedisi-ZNV-002440oxed-up memories.  It’s over and it’s done – she wasted her time. “88 Boxes I counted / my life it went from years to 88 boxes,” Ledisi sings on the chorus.  If The Truth were lacking in innovative spirit, “88 Boxes” infuses some using familiar, authentic scenarios.  “Can’t Help Who You Love” ends the album solidly, but certainly is a shade less enthralling than opening punch “I Blame You” or the top echelon of The Truth.  Still, the messaging is relatable: “You can’t help who you love / the heart’s just got a brain of its own.”

Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement.  Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much.  Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist.  Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either.  Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again.  We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.


“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: Aloe Blacc, ‘Lift Your Spirit’

41Gjnw1dUPL._SL500_AA280_ Aloe Blacc’s third album Lift Your Spirit does just that

Aloe Blacc • Lift Your Spirit • Interscope • US Release Date: March 11, 2014

Aloe Blacc-GHR-000602R&B singer Aloe Blacc is not in his first rodeo; he had an outstanding single out in 2010 entitled “I Need A Dollar” that should have foreshadowed what was to come.  Still, things only break for an artist when it’s the right time, and 2013-14 has proven to be the 35-year old singer’s time.  Two gargantuan singles have truly given Blacc ‘wings to fly’ on his third album, Lift Your Spirit: “Wake Me Up” (Aviici) and “The Man”.

The momentum that is on his side – specifically crossover success into pop from urban music – carries over into this overall fine ‘introduction’.  Sure, the singer, who has been associated with the Stones Throw label, has previously release two albums, but for many, this is their first impression of Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III.  That impression is a favorable one ultimately.

Aloe Blacc-LMK-060235The Man” is nothing short of enthusiastic and proves to be a sensational opening cut.  “Girl you can tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man,” Blacc sings passionately on the pre-chorus, before proclaiming “I got all the answers to your questions / I’ll be the teacher you could be the lesson…” on the chorus.  The throwback vibe hearkening back to R&B’s prime just makes “The Man” that much greater.  Throw in the lifted “Your Song” sample (Elton John) and soulful vocals from Blacc and “Everything is Sound” (Jason Mraz song reference FYI). The Pharrell Williams produced “Love Is The Answer” keeps things moving exceptionally well, again relying on the inspiration of the past.  Sure Williams’ typical production cues are in play, but he doesn’t mess with the soulful script.  In fact, “Love Is The Answer” sounds quite comparable to Williams’ own retro savvy on his own album G I R L.  The chivalrous nature of “Love Is The Answer” is nothing short of admirable (“Just look around the whole wide world / so many beautiful things to see / take my hand and come along spread love with me.”).

Wake Me Up (Acoustic)” is well placed given the popularity of the original Aviici single from True.  Still, the argument against what essentially is a reprisal is that “Wake Me Up” has experienced its peak already, so why feature it once more? There is nothing wrong with the acoustic version – it’s a quality recording – but moving forward beyond the track also wouldn’t have hurt Blacc in the least.  “Here Today” may not be among the best, but what is notable about it is that here specifically, Blacc truly channels the sound of Bill Withers.  Whether it is intentional influence or not, “Here Today” shows the beauty of Blacc’s pipes.  Additionally, much like the incredibly popular “The Man”, “Here Today” can pass off as an R&B or pop single.  On “Can You Do This”, the sound is likened to Bruno Mars’s soulful throwback joint “Runaway”.  They are clearly two different songs by different artists, but the sound is a modern day capture of retro-soul.  Halfway through, things still remain ‘all good’ overall.

Aloe Blacc-AES-109170Chasing” sports another funky groove and contrasts “Can You Do This” with a slower tempo. The use of horns adds another dimension, truly accentuating the song.  The refrain is a ‘feel good’ one with Blacc singing of “girls chasing the boys” and so on.  One specific highlighting moment is when the groove switches briefly to reggae, which is a sound contrast to the rest.  “Chasing” isn’t revolutionary (nothing is on this album), but it is definitely one of the singer’s best songs.  “The Hand Is Quicker” doesn’t lose a bit of momentum, with a hard, stomping groove and magnificent use of electric guitar, horns, and organ.  Retro-soul is written all over this cut, with the backing vocals truly sealing the deal.  “You know the hand / is quicker than the eye,” sings Blacc on the refrain, “Sometimes the truth / ain’t no better than a lie.” The sweetest spot of Blacc’s voice – when he ascends into his upper register.

Ticking Bomb” is a treat; it contrasts its contemporaries on Lift Your Spirit and possesses certain intensity about it.  Soulful, clear, and nuanced vocals by Blacc continue to be the story of the LP; he’s a man on fire.  What’s equally remarkable is the fact that Blacc never over sings, giving just the right amount to draw the desired effect.  “Red Velvet Seal” truly buys into vintage soul with its six-eight groove, a common cue of classic soul.  Though the two songs are unrelated by all means, “Red Velvet Seal” hearkens back to Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You” given its over sound and feel.  “Red Velvet Seal” is a strong penultimate track, even if it just misses the glory and notability of the top echelon.  “Owe It All” provides the album’s obligatory spiritual cut, with Blacc thanking God for everything.  An appropriate closer, the enjoyable “Owe It All” caps off a soundly conceived R&B album.

Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy.  There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall.  Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least.  Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout.   It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.


“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: Pharrell Williams, ‘G I R L’


G I R L easily one-ups Williams’ 2006 debut, In My Mind

Pharrell Williams • G I R L • Columbia • US Release Date: March 3, 2014

Pharrell Williams-20140303-0Arguably, no one had a better year in 2013 than Pharrell Williams.  A longtime veteran of the music game in a numerous capacities, things had become considerably slower for one of music’s brightest beacons.  But then the music heavens delivered some big-time juggernauts via “Get Lucky” (Daft Punk) and “Blurred Lines” (Robin Thicke) that clearly reinvigorated the producer/artist’s career.  William’s accomplishments would be celebrated by a couple of notable Grammy victories and an Academy award nomination for “Happy”, his infectious, number one single from the animated feature, Despicable 2.   Pharrell is no dummy – he knows that you’re only hot for so long and then demand dwindles.  Because he’s ‘hot’ right now, it’s the perfect time to drop his second solo album, G I R L.  It’s not merely a strategic thing either, as G I R L has the quality to back it up.  Compared to In My Mind, G I R L is tons more fun!

Marilyn Monroe” initiates G I R L with a sophisticated, classical-sounding string flurry. And NO, those aren’t MIDI strings, but the real-deal, arranged by – get ready for it – Hans Zimmer (among others, with Bruce Fowler serving as orchestrator).   The overall sound and vibe is ‘Pharrell-ean’, given the expected cues characteristic of the artist, but also incredibly soulful.  As sensational and classy as the production is, Williams’ flawless falsetto seals the deal, particularly given the gentlemanlike tone of “Marilyn Monroe”.  “Not even Marilyn Monroe / Queen Cleopatra please / Not even Joan of Arc,” sings Williams on the refrain, “That don’t mean nothin’ to me / I just want a different girl…can’t another good boy keep it this through.” Essentially, Williams is hopelessly in love, and not even another ‘dime’ could atone for his affection towards ‘her’.  Chivalrous as albeit.

Pharrell2-20140305-72The chivalrous spirit continues on the Justin Timberlake assisted “Brand New”, which may be best summed up by its chorus: “Honey, you got me feelin’ (brand new) / like the tag’s still on me…jumpin’ round in your bag…” Essentially, the boys are saying ‘she’s’ changed them and reinvigorated them; they are renewed.  Sure a lyric like Williams’ “A winner never quits / a quitter never wins / I thought about what I wanted / and you were on my list” is sort of schmaltzy, but it is memorable.  Ultimately, “Brand New” proves to be a pop-soul track that’s clearing #winning.  “Hunter”, the follow-up isn’t too shabby either, though Williams allows for a bit more naughtiness.  Post-chorus lyrics like “My love has come…sex has come” clearly switch from the emotional side of the relationship to what goes down in the bedroom.  Still, Williams keeps things classy enough.  Again though, the falsetto is so ‘nasty’, William’s sensual thoughts can be heard audibly in that upper vocal register.

So much for classy! “Gush” is not referencing ‘gushing’ ocean waves by any means.  But rather than stick that god-awful parental advisory sticker on G I R L, “Gush” has been edited, even if ubiquitous lyric “light that a$$ on fire” slyly remains intact.  The jazzy, soulful harmonic progression is clearly in Neptunian style, aka The Neptunes production.  That said, Williams was the driving force behind that production style, and he produces the entirety of G I R L.  But any who, Williams admits his perverted side didn’t come from his momma: “I don’t know what’s come over me / my momma didn’t raise me that way.”  Still, the continuation of the pre-chorus seems like an excuse only by a man possessed by the three-letter word (“…You lit a fire, from inside of me / that’d light your seat ablaze, girl…”), only confirmed by the chorus (“Tonight I wanna be dirty, girl…do you wanna get dirty girl? Let’s go”). Well, Williams is saying what most guys are thinking, right?

Pharrell Williams2-20140210-66Atonement for improprieties or being a ‘D-O-G’ comes with the undeniably enthusiastic “Happy”.  Sure, many knew that “Let It Go” from Frozen was going to be difficult to beat for an Oscar, but didn’t everyone have sweet spot in their heart for arguably the year’s most positive song? Throwback soul never sounded so relevant in a time where soulfulness isn’t the dominant trend.  That said, “Happy” is so addictive and infectious, that it is undeniable to want to move your body to it and smile.  Really, there’s no more to say – it’s classic.

Come Get It Bae” gets the tall task of following the gem, but the sick grooving number does a good job.  Williams enlists the help of Miley Cyrus, but to hers and his credit, it works.  Sure, the cut isn’t what you’d declare intelligent, but it is irresistible – and sexual. Yep, probably a perfect reason for ‘new Miley’ to guest… “Come get it bae, come get it bae… you wanna ride it, my motorcycle / you’ve got a license, but you got the right to,” Williams sings on the chorus, “Gonna pop a wheelie, don’t try too high / take it easy on the clutch, cause girl I like you.”  That motorcycle certainly can’t be a Harley… just an observation!

After getting riled up on “Come Get It Bae”, Williams settles things down with the help of Daft Punk.  “Gust of Wind” is amongst the albums’ best, featuring exceptional production work, driven by its groove.  Williams’ vocals are clear, soulful, and nuanced, among his best performances of the entire effort.  The chivalrous nature returns, contrasting the freakiness of “Bae”: “When I open the window / I wanna hug you / cause you remind me of the air / I said yeah / cause when I’m feelin’ real low / I remember I love you / I put my hands in the air / and you were there.”

Lost Queen” is lengthy, but that is because it features a hidden track (I won’t reveal it).  Like the rest of G I R L, “Lost Queen” is enjoyable and well conceived, but it isn’t quite as valedictory as the top echelon, which includes “Brand New”, “Happy”, and “Gust of Wind”.   As for that hidden track that I won’t name, it’s worth the listen.  “Know Who You Are” brings in Alicia Keys, who ends up collaborating well with Williams.  Like the rest Pharrell Williams-AES-121317of the LP, production remains top-notch, but the overall song/songwriting matches up well here too.  G I R L closes with “It Girl”, in which Williams’ falsetto is ripe from the jump.  It’s not as dominant a close as “Marilyn Monroe” opens, but it holds its own.

Ten tracks deep, G I R L benefits from its brevity and overall lack of filler.  Sure, it’s not a perfect album, but ultimately, Pharrell Williams delivers an effort that plays to his musical strengths and is pleasant to the ear.  He doesn’t over-sex R&B like so many of his contemporary and younger male artists tend to do; he keeps things classy.  Mature and enjoyable, G I R L is definitely a winner worthy of numerous spins… or a high play count on the iPod, LOL.


“Brand New”; “Hunter”; “Happy”; “Come Get It Bae”; “Gust of Wind”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: Candice Glover, ‘Music Speaks’


After much delay, Candice Glover finally delivers her debut album

Candice Glover • Music Speaks • 19 • US Release Date: February 18, 2014

Candice Glover-20140214-114Honestly, it seemed like an urban-sounding artist might never win American Idol again, let alone a female contestant after a string of victorious males.  Candice Glover became the first female victor since Jordin Sparks, though bad timing kind of killed her vibe.  Glover was brilliant throughout a season where everything seemed dead WRONG.  The judges’ panel lacked chemistry (and sometimes tact) while many of the contestants seemed, um, blasé.  The ratings were down and despite a set summer 2013 release for Glover’s debut, it was pushed back to the Fall.  After being pushed back to the Fall, well, the album again was pushed back… until 2014.  Finally, Glover delivers Music Speaks to her fans.  Unfortunately, what little buzz surrounded her or the show seems nearly mute, and winning single “I Am Beautiful” doesn’t even make the album cut.  Still as Lupe Fiasco would say, “The Show Goes On” and Glover definitely shows she has considerable talent throughout Music Speaks.

Promo single “Cried” opens Music Speaks incredibly.  A well-written, heart-wrenching track (co-written by R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan), “Cried” showcases the power, finesse, and nuance of Glover’s voice.  As far as being a single that truly elevates Glover to stardom or commercial aspirations,  “Cried” is likely not the answer.  Another minor rub against the notable cut is its specific placement within the track list; perhaps it could’ve been even more effective elsewhere besides the opener.  Regardless, Glover gives her all on the incredibly underrated single.

Die Without You” isn’t a shabby follow-up in the least, sporting a “cool, calm, and collected” sensibility about it.  “Die Without You” succeeds at being both modern yet old school.  “Die Without You” has enough swagger that it falls in line with the tenets of adult contemporary R&B, but also has that ‘grown folks’ sexiness (“I’d die without you”).  If there is one nitpick, it is that Glover could have even freed her voice more on the ad-libs.  Still, that falsetto towards the end is pretty sweet. Two tracks in, Glover is on the right track.

Same Kinda Man” benefits from its retro-soul production, which proves to be a perfect fit for Glover.  Glover feels as if she’s found her niche here; it doesn’t seem far-fetched that she’s an old soul.  Something about the ambience of horns and a compelling, powerhouse voice makes “Same Kinda Man” extremely appealing.  “Damn” is equally captivating, even if the full production of  “Same Kinda Man” is traded for a more stripped, piano-driven backdrop.  Regardless of less instrumentation, Glover truly sells the “I love another woman’s man” narrative.  Sure, the concept is ‘tried-and-true’, if not completely cliché, but even if Glover doesn’t seem to be the type to experience what she sings of, it’s still a treat.  “Damn, damn, damn / I fell in love with someone else’s man,” she sings on the simplistic, but addictive chorus.  So far, so good for Candice Glover.

Passenger” from a first listen comes off a bit of a bore; its length certainly doesn’t help either.  After a couple of spins though, the adult contemporary track has some magic about it, specifically the chorus (“I’ll be your passenger / I’ll go where you want me too / I’ll let you navigate / just let me ride with you”).  By the end, Glover’s rousing ad-libs certainly atone for any miscues.  Perhaps it isn’t quite as ‘elite’ as the opening quartet; “Passenger” is another solid, love joint.  “Forever That Man” and “Kiss Me” also lack the same fire/intensity of the opening tracks.  Both are solid listens ultimately, but they don’t necessarily separate Glover from other artists in the same vein.  “Forever That Man” gives Glover a pop-oriented ballad, which does at least open the door for crossover appeal. Even so, it isn’t quite a perfect match.  “Kiss Me” lacks a bit of excitement, though Glover certainly performs it well.

In The Middle” is a surprise once it begins playing, particularly following somewhat more conservative cuts like the trio preceding it.  The interpolation of “Ting A Ling” is obvious, but it definitely works contextually. If anything, compared to the previous three cuts, “In The Middle” has more sass and personality.  Worth noting is that former American Idol champ Fantasia serves as a co-writer.  The personality of “In The Middle” also translates onto “Coulda Been Me”, a six-eight cut using some chopped-n-screwed vocals for flavor.  Don’t worry folks; Glover’s talented pipes remain intact and flawless.

Candice Glover2-20140214-115Penultimate cut “Thank You” has a vintage nature about it, given its main idea and production, but it shows Glover truly in her ‘zone’.  Like “Cried”, “Thank You” may not be the lift to propel Glover to commercial success, but it is definitely enjoyable and inspiring.  “Love Song”, Glover’s ‘ace in the hole’ on American Idol, concludes the brief 11 track affair.  The performance is solid, but similar to Fantasia’s cover of “Summertime” is a performance that just can’t be perfectly replicated in the studio setting.  Still, “Love Song” caps off Music Speaks sincerely and appropriately.

Ultimately how does Glover’s Music Speaks stack up comparatively to former Idol debut albums? It’s respectable, though not classic. There is enough solid material and magnificent vocals from Glover to make the album sound and enjoyable, but there is nothing that makes it a contemporary masterpiece.  The greatest pro in regards to Music Speaks is its potential; that potential is certainly grand.


“Cried”; “Die Without You”; “Same Kinda Man”; “Damn”; Thank You”

Verdict:  ★★★½

Review: Toni Braxton & Babyface, ‘Love Marriage & Divorce’


Toni Braxton and Babyface make some sweet, classy music on Love Marriage & Divorce 

Toni Braxton & Babyface • Love Marriage & Divorce • Motown • US Release Date: February 4, 2014

Toni Braxton-20140128-29There’s just something special when two R&B veterans collaborate together.  Honestly, when your career has past its peak, why not come together and try to rekindle the magic – after all, isn’t two better than one? Adult contemporary R&B artists Toni Braxton and Babyface definitely have a special thing going on with their collaborative album, Love Marriage & Divorce.  Both are past their prime as R&B ‘royalty’ (Babyface still relatively popular as a producer and songwriter), but on this classy effort, both offer nothing short of their best vocally.  Love Marriage & Divorce isn’t ‘new’ in the ‘fresh’ sense, but Braxton and Babyface definitely flex their seasoned R&B muscles, which may be more relevant at this point.   And innovation aside, many can at least relate to one of the three words of the title, right? Right!

Roller Coaster” opens Love Marriage & Divorce, setting the adult contemporary R&B tone.  The production is pleasant, without being overdone in the least.  Babyface leads the charge on the verses, with Braxton completing them (think pre-chorus).  The memorable refrain unifies the standout: “When love is like a roller coaster / always up and down / when love takes over / your emotion spins you ‘round and ‘round…when love is like a roller coaster.” Ultimately, Braxton and Babyface end up being a perfect match for one another, sporting sound vocal chemistry.

Sweat” proceeds, featuring conservative production work that is refined; the sound is smooth and nothing too flashy.  Again, Babyface initiates the vocals, while Braxton settles for the back half of the verses and drives the refrain home.  “Sweat” is as close as the duo gets to ‘sex’, masking its sensuality through suggestiveness in the ‘grown-folks’ style.  This classy approach is appreciated and a departure in contemporary music, something many younger artists could benefit from  – subtlety.  Little feels risqué with the duo handling lyrics like “So if you really wanna fight / we could take it to the bed tonight (let’s sweat it out) / and if you really wanna scream, I can make you scream tonight (let’s sweat it out)”.  Perhaps if R. Kelly were performing it, well that would be a different matter completely.  Not as notable as the opener, “Sweat” isn’t too shabby either.

Hurt You” benefits from its pacing, taking its time to settle in.  In other words, the second verse is more developed than the first musically, which eliminates predictability, had “Hurt You” revealed all the cards early. The alternating vocals on the refrain are a nice touch from the duo, giving “Hurt You” more personality and oomph.  As far as songwriting, “Hurt You” is one of the very best.  The bridge exemplifies this sentiment: “Can we start over again / can we start baby as friends / give you one more try / the tender kisses you give to me/ would be the only thing I ever need”.  “Where Did We Go Wrong?” follows “Hurt You, proving to be equally notable. The clarity of vocals from both artists is stunningly beautiful.  Babyface’s falsetto sounds as pure as ever. He sounds as if he’s not aged a bit.  Like everything else, “Where Did We Go Wrong?” is smooth and refined.

Kenneth Babyface Edmonds Toni Braxton-JOG-001518Babyface and Toni Braxton each take a solo track following “Where Did We Go Wrong?”.  Both are well done in their own right, if not necessarily standouts.  “I Hope You’re Okay” is Babyface’s sole solo track, with the legendary R&B singer/songwriter sounding incredibly positive and chivalrous on the mid-tempo cut.  Babyface’s light  and agile vocals are perfectly suited for such a cut.  On “I Wish”, the sound contrasts, with Braxton wishing for her ex to suffer as much if not more than she did at his hands.   The piano accompaniment serves as perfect inspiration for Braxton to ‘tell it like it is.’  Both songs show off the respective strengths of each, though “I Hope That You’re Okay” might get the slightest edge over “I Wish”.

Take It Back” finds the duo reconvening. The results are positive once again, though “Take It Back” suffers a bit too much from its sameness.  The sentiment here is that a bit more differentiation could’ve made this particular cut more exciting.  “Reunited” is stronger, a song about reconnecting and rekindling the love.  Braxton drives home the bridge, which leads to a dramatic key change.  By the close, Braxton and Babyface have ‘let loose’, pouring their emotions into this cut.  Braxton takes another solo spot on “I’d Rather Be Broke”, arguably even better than “I Wish”.  Still, Braxton has been shaken up by her love troubles, singing “I’d rather be broke then with you…” Sure it’s simple, but the message that ‘there’s nothing worse than a woman scorned’ is easily conveyed.

Penultimate track “Heart Attack” might be the best of the entire album.  Up-tempo with a mix of adult contemporary R&B and neo-disco, “Heart Attack” is easily the most unique number if nothing more.  It certainly doesn’t sound ‘old’, an argument that could be posed in regards to some of the Kenneth Edmonds Toni Braxton-ZNV-002075other album tracks.  Babyface handles the verses, with Braxton handling the addictive refrain: “You know you want me back / you up here ‘bout to have a heart attack / you know you know you know you want it bad / that’s why you ‘bout to have a heart attack.” “The D Word” can’t match the intensity of “Heart Attack”, but it is an appropriate closer, tackling the divorce aspect of Love Marriage & Divorce.  “I put the papers on your doorstep,” sings Babyface on the first verse. “The keys under the mat / although the lawyer said to mail you / I’m still not over it.”  All about the pain of divorce and losing someone special, “The D Word” puts a cap on a solid album.

All in all, Love Marriage & Divorce is a pleasant R&B album.  It’s not what you might pen as an innovative tour de force, but it is very well done overall.  Vocally, both Braxton and Babyface sound incredible, particularly being past their artistic peaks.  It likely isn’t an album that will appeal to the present generation of R&B listeners who prefer more eclecticism and hip-hop stirred in, but for the traditionalist and ‘grown folks’, Love Marriage & Divorce should be right up their alley.


“Roller Coaster”; “Hurt You”; “Where Did We Go Wrong?”; “Heart Attack”

Verdict: ★★★½  

Review: Algebra Blessett, ‘Recovery’

515FJOUivkL._SL500_AA280_ Algebra superbly delivers the ups and downs of the recovery of the brokenhearted

Algebra Blessett • Recovery • eOne • US Release Date: January 28, 2014

Algebra-Blessett-t02Stating that R&B has cooled considerably in recent times would be an gigantic understatement.  When Beyoncé shocked the world in December 2013 with her surprise fifth LP, she definitely gave the entire genre a much need pick-me-up.  Until Beyoncé, no other R&B album had been certified platinum in 2013…that’s sad.  In 2014, who knows what the struggles face the ailing genre, which has plenty of talented, often under recognized musicians to keep it breathing.  Among those is Algebra Blessett, who returns with her sophomore album, Recovery.  Although Recovery is Blessett’s second album, one has look all the way back to 2008 to find her debut, Purpose (Kedar).  Essentially then, Recovery is a reintroduction (and introduction to some) of the adult contemporary R&B-oriented artist.  Ultimately, Recovery soundly accomplishes this task, delivering an effort detailing the ups and downs of recovering from a broken heart.

“Exordium To Recovery (Give My Heart A Chance)” opens Recovery with a soulful interlude.  For those curious, an exordium is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition.”  In this case, Algebra is setting the tone for her recovery from a broken heart.  Segueing from the intro, “Recovery” finds the singer reflecting on past love pains.  Despite the hardships though, Algebra is optimistic on the refrain: “I won’t lie, it’s not easy / it was harder than you think / the road back to recovery / I say it’s time to prepare / for love is out there / on my road to recovery”.  Exceptionally produced, “Recovery” is a superb start to the album of the same title.

Right Next To You” has a tough act to follow, but it’s none too shabby.  Here, Algebra longs to be right there with her man, literally.  It’s the typical love song of yearning and desire.  Even if the theme has been played out over and over, it’s hard to get tired of love, right? On “Nobody But Algebra-Blessett-t01You”, Algebra’s vocals are clear as a bell and incredibly nuanced.  The groove is soulful, yet contemporary at the same time.  Algebra’s swagger and personality truly makes “Nobody But You” a well-rounded winner.  The fat bass line doesn’t hurt the cause either.  “Struggle To Be”, a duet with Q. Parker (of 112) is yet another winning moment, lush in it’s production and the richness of the vocals on both ends. The backing vocals are a nice touch, further augmenting the plushness about this cut.  The theme is all about struggling to be a “good girl”/ “good man” to each other.  It’s definitely no struggle to listen to.

In another interlude (“Augment To Recovery (Give My Heart A Chance)”), continues reflect upon her recovery from her badly broken heart.  Here, Algebra’s goal is to make her recovery greater.  She follows her recovery augmentation with “Forever”, a cut where Algebra plans to “love [him] forever.” Although in a minor key, Algebra’s dedication is incredibly impassioned and legit.  On follow-up “Writer’s Block”, the track opens with Algebra struggling to find the write words – intact with crumbled paper sound effects.  Eventually, she arrives at the “right words” contextually, despite her ‘writer’s block’.

On “Paper Heart”, Algebra’s heart has been broken, yet she seems to want the same person who did the breaking to also repair it: “And I became your paper heart / to get scribbled on and ripped and torn from your love … it’s more than I can handle, I’m fragile / so take care of my paper heart”.  A second interpretation is that Algebra anticipates the results of a newfound love foreseeing similar results to a disappointing relationship in the past.  Regardless, the lyrics seem to find the ‘recovery’ to be in very much in question: “Baby boil me up and shoot for three / if you make the shot, say you’ll come back to me”.  “Paper Heart” may have a mixed perception in regards to love, but it yields no such reception in the context of Recovery itself; it’s a brilliant showing.

Danger Zone” continues to depict the scary aspects of love; essentially it is a ‘risk for reward’ type of situation.  It’s not unlike the tenor of the entirety of the effort where Algebra is torn between the fear of a repeat of the ills versus atonement with a true, dedicated love.  Like everything else, Algebra-Blessett-t03“Danger Zone” is thoughtfully composed, well performed, and well produced.   “Mystery” proceeds, with Algebra still very guarded about the rededication of her to a new relationship.  The narrative is genuine and realistic, the production throwback (neo-soul/adult contemporary R&B mix), and Algebra’s voice fantastic.

The final three cuts from Recovery confirm it is a process with its ups and downs.  “Another Heartache” is exactly what it says it is.  Algebra delivers it tugging at the heartstrings with its torture of love gone amiss.  On “Better For Me”, the singer reflects on the past – what was and what could’ve been. Ultimately, she arrives at the conclusion that it is better to move on.  On the slow concluding cut “I’ll Be Ok”, even though Algebra’s currently ‘bruised’, she takes the high road, knowing she’ll make it through the pain.  In relation to the album’s narrative, “I’ll Be Ok” is a fitting end.

All said and done, Recovery is a fine R&B album, particularly to be released in a quiet January.  There is a classiness and coolness about this effort that is appealing.  Algebra never over sings; she always gives just the right amount of oomph and emotion to connect with the audience.  Recovery is nothing flashy, but it doesn’t need to be.  It is what it is – a narrative that a many of folk have experienced in real life, not merely an R&B album.  Kudos Algebra – kudos.


“Recovery”; “Nobody But You”; “Struggle To Be” featuring Q. Parker; “Paper Heart”; “Mystery”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: The Weeknd, ‘Kiss Land’


The Weeknd Sticks With the Formula With Less Notable Results

The Weeknd⎪ Kiss Land ⎪ Republic⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 10, 2013

The Weeknd2-20130729-219Alternative R&B generally is a fine outlet to keep the cooling genre of R&B alive. In a day and age where ‘neo-soul’ has fallen by the wayside and adult contemporary R&B can’t carry the torch alone, alt-R&B seems like the present answer to preserve respiration.  Artists like Frank Ocean, Miguel, and The Weeknd have been the chief proponents of this movement.  The Weeknd’s compilation effort Trilogy, showed the possibilities and the appeal of this nu-soul.  On Kiss Land, The Weeknd continues in a similar vein, but not sans flaws.  Kiss Land feels too spacey at times, where some extra definition and less self-indulgence might’ve boded well for The Weeknd.

Professional” is an interesting way to start, sampling EMIKA’s “Professional Loving”.  At first, The Weeknd’s reference to professionalism seems to be his newfound stardom, as highlighted lyrically throughout the intro (“…So you’re somebody now / but that’s a somebody in a nobody town / you made enough to quit a couple of years ago / but it consumes you / everywhere you go”).  On the switch-up, the idea of professionalism seems to transform sexually, which isn’t unpredictable given The Weeknd’s dedication to such subject. All in all, it works, but “Professional” feels as if it could use one extra lift to truly propel it to another level.

The Town” seems a bit more undercooked than “Professional”.  Sure it’s druggy sounding and The Weeknd continues his mission (“I remember on the bathroom floor / before I went on tour / when you said we couldn’t do it again / cause you had a thing with another man…”), but even given the richness of his falsetto, he lacks the strength to deliver a truly captivating performance.   He does better for himself on “Adaptation”, though it’s not without its rubs. “I lay my head on a thousand beds / it’s been a test to see how far a man / can go without himself…”, he sings reflectively on verse one.  The chorus is more telling though:  “But I chose the lie / I chose the life / then I realized / she might have been the one / I let it go / for a little fun / I made a trade / gave away our days / for a little fame / Now I’ll never see your face / but it’s okay I adapted anyway”.  The Weeknd gets added swag points with his ad libs toward the end.

The Weeknd-20130729-218By “Love in The Sky”, The Weeknd seems to have his stuff together, delivering one of the album’s best.  He’s in top-notch form when he delivers widely interpretable lines such as “There’s no one inside / but you’re free to relax / if you commit to this ride / there’s no turning back…” Sure, he could be going for high level thinking, but it seems he definitely wants you to catch his innuendo.  If it’s not clear on “Love in The Sky”, it definitely is on the follow-up cut, “Belong To The World”.  “I’m not a fool / I just love that you’re dead inside… I’m not a fool, I’m just lifeless too…” Okay.  Most interesting is when it’s obvious The Weeknd is referring to a stripper (“Oh girl, I know I should leave you / and learn to mistreat you / cause you belong to the world / and ooh girl, I want to embrace you / domesticate you / but you belong to the world…”).

Personally, “Live For” seems like something of a wasted opportunity.  The hook is simple as is the overall theme: “This the sh*t that I live for, this the sh*t that I live for / this the sh*t that I live for, with the people I’d die for…” Yeah, yeah, yeah.  We’ve heard this about a bajillion times. Still, The Weeknd asserts his ‘swag’ (“I’m in my city in the summer / Camo’d out, leather booted / kissing b**ches in the club…”) while Drake steals the show (“Roll up in that thing, got h**s like Prince, but they know I’m King.” “Wanderlust” is stronger, sampling Fox the Fox (“Precious Little Diamond”).  Again, it’s not perfect, but you can’t deny the humor and truth in a line like “Good girls go to heaven / and bad girls go everywhere / and tonight I will love you / and tomorrow you won’t care…” If nothing else, “Wanderlust” is the closest cut to dance to.

The Weeknd3-20130729-216“Kiss Land” stands out, with The Weeknd being bold with lyrics like  “You can meet me in the room where the kisses ain’t free / you gotta pay with your body” or the more overt “I can’t stand talkin’ to brand new girls / only b**ches down to f**k when you shower them ones…” Maybe most irresponsible is his references to drugs.  Despite this, “Kiss Land” is a winner.  “Pretty” shines as well.  While it literally opens with a ‘bang’ (“Somebody telling you it was pointless for me to come back into your arms / said you f**ked another man…”), The Weeknd reins himself in with some more thoughtful lyrics.  Closer “Tears in the The Weeknd4-20130729-217Rain” sports solid ideas, but as with many of the cuts here, it lasts too long and feels a bit too indulgent.

How does Kiss Land stack up? Honestly, it is a bit disappointing.  It’s not terrible by any means, but to say an of the cuts stand up against “Wicked Games” or “Twenty Eight” would be a stretch from my perspective.  Additionally, even though The Weeknd built his career around sex, drugs, and emo R&B, a broadening wouldn’t hurt next album.

Favorites: “Love in The Sky”; “Belong To The World”; “Kiss Land”

Verdict: ✰✰✰

Raheem DeVaughn, A Place Called Loveland © Mass Appeal

Review: Raheem DeVaughn, A Place Called Love Land

Raheem DeVaughn, A Place Called Loveland © Mass Appeal

Raheem DeVaughn Does What He Does Superbly

Raheem DeVaughn⎪ A Place Called Love Land ⎪Mass Appeal⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 3, 2013

Classy is a positive adjective in my book, however when it comes to music, classiness isn’t necessarily the first adjective that comes to mind when describing a potential commercially successful artist or album.  R&B crooner Raheem DeVaughn epitomizes classiness, particularly with his brand of R&B that thrives on uplifting the woman and making her feel genuine love.  Despite his refined brand of adult contemporary R&B and touches of retro-soul (formerly of the neo-soul school that seems long gone), DeVaughn’s no commercial juggernaut.  Now gone the indie-R&B rap where the neo-soul hippie likely best fit anyways, there isn’t the slightest bit of fall off on A Place Called Love Land, another welcome addition to the artist’s rich discography.

A Place Called Love Land is filled with interludes, opening with “Interlude” which establishes the vibe of the effort.  “Love Connection” takes the bait, opening both smoothly and soundly. DeVaughn’s performance isn’t incredibly flashy, but his restraint and coolness more than manage to deliver a punch.  After building the connection, DeVaughn continues to shine on “Wrong Forever”, which captures the ear instantly with the beat boxing at the onset.  Sporting an archetypical, jazzy harmonic progression, “Wrong Forever” is well written and worthwhile.  “Honey, like I’m Hugh Hefner / thinking I could have a million girls but still keep her…”, DeVaughn sings on the first verse, only to sum up his ‘wrongs’ on the chorus stating “…Now I gotta deal with the fact I did you wrong forever…” Deep stuff for sure.

Interlude – Don’t Go” may be under two minutes, but while listening, you keep thinking, this could’ve been another, full-fledged hit.  It’s leads into the outstanding “Complicated” where DeVaughn truly earns every cent and more of his royalties.  RD growls grittily by the end, letting that ridiculous falsetto shine to the upmost.  Somewhere ‘in between’ within his relationship, DeVaughn doesn’t want to label it: “I’m kinda single, but I’m in love, it’s complicated because, because / I’m being patient , can’t say we’re dating, I can’t explain it, it’s complicated girl…” “In The Meantime” finds DeVaughn among his best, over soulful, bright production.  Brief at under three minutes, “In The Meantime” still proves to be a perfect fit.

Following “Interlude: Rebirth”, DeVaughn sings “So call me a fool / call me insane / tell me hat loving you the way you do is ridiculous… baby if loving you the way I do is ridiculous / then call me ridiculous…” on the thoughtful “Ridiculous”, yet another number finding him on autopilot. Through in the soulful progression, hard anchoring drums, and fine songwriting, and everything feels right.  “Pink Crush Velvet” has a difficult act to follow, but continues the consistency established by DeVaughn.  And honestly, when you have hard drums, rhythmic upper register piano chords, and some synths, how can you go wrong? Oh, of course the vocals of a pro truly set things on fire.

Greatest Love” continues a group of generally unobjectionable numbers that may not supersede say “Woman” (Love Behind The Melody), but are strong additions by all means. “Cry Baby” is among my favorites, delivering a beautiful slow jam produced by Adonis Shropshire.  Then there’s the more gentlemanly-than-expected “Make A Baby”: “Just think we made it / a boy with swagga like mine / and to be sure let’s go all night / and if it’s a girl / like her mama she gonna be so fine…” Sure the sensuality is there, but it transcends that.

Make Em Like You” continues the flattery, but at least it feels genuine (“Take me to your momma and your daddy so I can say thank you cause I just want them blessings…”). The production definitely stands out, hearkening back to the past.  What better way to close than single “Maker of Love” featuring Boney James?

All and all, Raheem continues to flex his soulful, gentlemanly muscles on A Place Called Loveland.  There is nothing incredibly innovative per se, but ‘tried and true’ Raheem DeVaughn always seems to deliver.

Favorites“Love Connection”; “Wrong Forever”; “Complicated”; “Cry Baby”; “Make A Baby”; “Make Em Like You”