(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, December 12, 2011

CD review - Meshell Ndegéocello, Weather (2011)

Dreamy intimacy with a soulful focus

Meshell Ndegéocello creates albums that fit the particular moment she's in. On Weather, she is floating through a set of restrained jazz/funk/soul grooves with late night night vibe. This isn't aimless drifting, it's just a sign of an artist comfortable in her own skin. Before anyone writes it off they should heed her warning on the final track: "Don't you take my kindness for weakness / Just cause I'm gentle doesn't mean I'm not strong".

The intimate mood starts off with the title track. It follows a lazy, retro Prince soul groove.
Ndegéocello whispers the lyrics in your ear as the dreamy backing music wraps the tune in a cottony haze. The feel intensifies on Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. The music is almost tentative as it lays out a Joan Armatrading style jazzy soul. It's stripped down to showcase Ndegéocello's rich voice.

It's good that the lyrics on these songs are immediate and connected. Otherwise, the music could feel dissociated and signal a kind of surrender. Take the minimalist Oysters. The piano accompaniment is moody and nostalgic. The vocals are breathy and restrained. But the lyrics have a bittersweet Jeff Tweedy depth:
Somebody wishin' on a shooting star
Shooting star streaming 'cross the sky
You know it's just a meteor, right?

People throwing pennies in a wishing well
Wishing well's gonna run dry
But I ain't gonna leave you tonight

Everybody talkin' 'bout changing the world
The world ain't ever gonna change
But you can always change it for me.
Weather is not all dream time and clouds. Dirty World shows a spark of of her bass mastery with a solid bass line reminiscent of Victor Wooten's work. The song takes a twisting turn into synth pop for the chorus. The contrast between the tight bass playing and the softer synth sound creates a piquant tension that Weather needed. The social commentary in the lyrics suits this tension perfectly.

My favorite track is Ndegéocello's cover of Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel. The spare music staggers a bit under the emotional weight and her voice is warm and vibrant. When Ndegéocello drops into a conversational tone for a line, her wry tone adds the sound of truth to her voice.

Weather is emotionally deep and infused with a realness best softened by dreamy music. It's more about connection than technical fireworks. The pace may drag a bit for impatient listeners, but give it the time it deserves. Weather is best appreciated by candlelight where the nuances can weave their web.

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