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Soul Express CD of the Month - August 2009

Teena Marie: Congo Square

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Congo Square
US Stax CD, 2009
1) Pressure - f. MC Lyte 2) Can't Last a Day - f. Faith Evans 3) Baby I Love You 4) Ear Candy 101 5) Lover's Lane - f. Howard Hewett 6) Marry Me 7) You Baby 8) Milk N' Honey - f. Rose Lebeau 9) What U Got 4 Me 10) Rovleta's Jass 11) Congo Square - f. George Duke 12) Harlem Blues 13) Black Cool 14) Ms. Coretta 15) Soldier - f. Shirley Murdock 16) Rose N' Thorn

Teena Marie's latest set Congo Square has received contradictory reviews. I can well understand why some bloggers have considered the album as highly inconsistent, because the music on the 16-track album ranges from contemporary R&B with hip hop influences to very jazzy and even bluesy traditional black music. Not surprisingly, the younger generation has regarded the latter half of the album as irrelevant, and the older generation some tracks as too R&B-inclined. Still, I have no qualms claiming that this album is one of the best CDs of this year, and my best argument is that you don't meet an album everyday that includes as many as eight absolute gems. This one does!

Moreover, even the trendiest R&B cuts on this album are more soulful than 99 per cent of the stuff that currently rides high on the Billboard R&B chart. A good example is the Faith Evans duet Can't Last a Day, which begins like an average irritating R&B nursery rhyme, but then turns into a surprisingly tasty and soulful mid-paced swayer. Needless to say, Teena Marie easily outshines Ms. Evans as a vocalist. Another modern ballad, Baby I Love You, is not bad at all, either.

The soul fiesta on this set starts from the fourth track, the instant classic Lover's Lane, which features Howard Hewett as a duettist. It is one of the most soulful performances I've heard in recent years. That is followed by a track titled Marry Me, on which Teena begs someone to "make a respectable woman out of me", and you can bet she sings it like she means it!

And I haven't even mentioned my personal favorite tracks on the album! The jazz-flavored tracks on the album are absolutely delicious, starting from the title track Congo Square that refers to an area of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The strong jazz and blues influences are therefore inevitable, and Teena Marie is really at home in this kind of marvellous musical setting, which features George Duke on piano, Steve Baxter on trombone, three different saxophone players, a trumpetist, a clarinet player etc. Harlem Blues, for its part, is Teena's own song, not a cover tune, although the song represents classic jazz with blues overtones. I really could listen a whole album of this kind of Teena Marie material!

Ms. Corretta is dedicated to Mrs. Corretta Scott King, the wife of late Martin Luther King, and it is aptly set into a rich musical backing. The duet with Shirley Murdock, entitled Soldier, features a funkier backdrop with a meaty bass-line, resulting in yet another great track. The albums closes with The Rose n' Thorn, a jazzy, serene ballad in an orchestrated setting, with the legendary Paul Riser conducting and arranging the orchestra.

As one reviewer wrote, Congo Square is really two albums at the price of one. Youngster will love the first half, and longtime soul fans the second. But the good thing is that even the first half has several soulful cuts. Go and pick the CD now.
- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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Teena Marie: Can't Last a Day

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