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Soul Express CD Review

Ledisi: Pieces of Me CD
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Pieces of Me
Verve Forecast (USA, 2011)

1) Pieces of Me 2) So Into You 3) Bravo 4) Stay Together (featuring Jaheim) 5) Coffee 6) Hate That You Love Me 7) Shut Up 8) Shine 9) I Miss You Now 10) Be Good To Yourself 11) Raise Up 12) I Gotta Get To You

It seems that the opinions about Ledisi's latest set can be divided into two different camps. First, there's an ever growing number of Facebook followers and new fans who have obviously only just discovered Ledisi and are enthusing how wonderfully she sings. But on the soul music forums, you can read quite contrast views, stating what a waste it is to hear Ledisi singing standard R&B for younger audience, when all her longtime fans know that she really would be capable of singing new classics. I guess they are both right: Ledisi's singing is still superb, her vocals are strong and colourful in the extreme, but the material on this album is standard R&B chart stuff aimed at teenagers.

The two most decent tracks that have been picked in soul forums are the Jaheim duet Stay Together - that has a nice soulful feel but is still far from brilliance of classic soul duets - and the opening song and single pick Pieces of Me, which is a decent tune and powerfully sung, but embedded in a standard R&B-type, clopping drum machine backdrop.

It is actually amazing to see how even producer Rex Rideout and Ledisi herself have adopted their style to suit the current R&B chart format. The melodies are short, riffing nursery rhymes, the backgrounds extremely simple and harsh. Think about rhythm machines today; you could program them today playing very elaborate, synocpated rhythms, but the programmers simply create extremely loud and clumsy back beats. Why? Because the masses would not buy more complex or jazz-oriented rhythms, but any idiot can tap their feet to a simple 4/4 beat.

Especially the tracks produced by Jon Jon Traxx and KayGee are straight teenage R&B perfect for young hip hoppers who are gradually thinking of buying their first ever vocal R&B album. Or maybe Ledisi's vocals should be filtered by autotune to make the tracks even more attractive to this audience?

On Ledisi's previous two albums, there were one or two "compromises" to her more adult listeners, now there aren't really any. Coffee starts with a sample of Grover Washington's Black Frost, but then quickly turns into a blunt, mundane R&B track. The next track Hate Me even contains some real instruments, including a horn section (trombone, trumpet, sax), but it seems all the instruments are arranged to sound as much standard chart R&B as possible. Also, on Raise up, lots of real instruments are used, but the actual tune is so modest it should have been shelved.

What is really sad, even all the ballads have been sacrificed to the chart R&B format. Of course, I understand that this is just business for Verve, but putting Ledisi now so strictly into R&B chart format, aren't they missing at the same time the possibility to break her to a larger mainstream audience? Looking at the chart success, this album is selling worse than its predecessor Turn Me Loose, and the CD is already dropping fast both in R&B charts and pop charts. It peaked at position 2 on R&B albums and position 8 on The Billboard 200. Hardly not a Grammy winner, then. Aren't they always decided by chart success, anyway?

- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express
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