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US Grooveallegiance USA, 2008
1) Lovers And Friends 2) Black Pearl 3) I'm Staying Home Tonight 4) I''l Be There (Where You Are) 5) Follow Your Heart 6) Honest I Do 7) Balance 8) Brush N Curl 9) Black Pearl (JO Mix)

If you love Lalah Hathaway as a vocalist then Ashanti Munir is for you. Review of new Lalah Hathaway to come...SUPERB set! Anyway, I digress as usual... this is, needless to say NOT the same Ashanti who is known blaring out of most teenager's bedrooms! No, this Lady has got some charisma, pizazz and understands what a melody is. Her vocals are strong and unafraid of meeting a match to whatever tempo is laid down. The music is a healthy mix of real instruments and programmed beats and is a set that would appeal to those of you who would cheerfully purchase a Conya Doss, N'Dambi or Jill Scott album.

Ashanti stakes her claim to having sheer class within the very first track. The richness of “Lovers And Friends” relies on a very familiar bassline – Grover Washington's “Paradise”, I believe! Portrait also relied on this for their excellent “Lovin' U Is Ah-Ight, but this features much more real instrumentation and is less 'in your face'. The Lalah Hathaway-styled vocal element is very strong indeed, and this strength really helps the following track, and the accompanying remix, kick some real ass. “Black Pearl”, if I had my way, be MASSIVE. This is without a doubt a strong, strong track and destined to great things if the more quality-led radio stations get wind of it. Please make sure you check that track out ASAP.

Fans of the stepping groove will appreciate the vibe of “I'm Staying Home Tonight” which almost has a Paul Simpson taste to it. Not pretentious in any way, the song is cheerily self-indulgent and for once allows an artist sing about relaxing without slipping into bed with someone else! Though, there's nowt wrong with that, of course! Unless they consistently snbore or have ice-cold feet. You too, huh?! “Honestly I Do” is more laid back, and gently acoustic with some fine harmonica a la Stevie Wonder. Although the melody is as fresh as a summer breeze, the song itself is melancholic, though when you walk away from it you feel far from low or drained – something that actually takes some artistic skill.

The subject of strength in friendship between lovers is very well tackled in “I'll Be There (Where You Are)”. A lot of emphasis in today's music – so called – is sex, sex, sex and “you hurt me” and “I'm gonna give it to you” and all the rest of it. Songs like this are worthwhile whether you appreciate them or not as they carry the torch of REAL soul music, espousing love, responsibility, friendship and empowerment. Anyone who lays down positive messages like this can do little wrong in my book. “Balance” is an album that is as artistic and thoughtful as anything else. A lot of time, love and effort has been honed here, and I can't wait for the Lady to deliver us more work in the future but until then please check her out.
- Barry Towler

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