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Soul Express Album Review

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Teena Marie – Sapphire
(US Cash Money CD, 2006)
1) God Has Created - 2:11 2) Cruise Control - 5:08 3) Baby Who's Is It - 5:05 4) Make It Hot - 4:31 5) Ooh Wee - 3:56 6) Sleeping with the Enemy - 5:08 7) A) P) B) - 4:51 8) Love Is a Gangsta - 5:18 9) Ladies Choice - 4:53 10) Somebody Just Like You - 5:36 11) You Blow Me Away - 6:16 12) Simmer Down - 5:17 13) Romantica - 5:42 14) The Way You Love Me - 5:03 15) Ecstasy - 4:42 16) Resilient (Sapphire) - 3:41

Although I do rate Teena Marie, I have never been a massive fan. However her 21st Century output has me reassess my feelings for this Lady, and I feel that the work that she now puts forward on Cash Money rates as her best work to date. The usually rap-orientated Williams Brothers are executive producers, and have again allowed Teena the free reign to do what she does best. Teena triumphs yet again with a set that easily swaggers in with cool urban street efforts along with more soulful and traditional R&B efforts. The end result is a very well-balanced, pleasing and polished set that should have something from the real connoisseur and the more youthful listener who may be more conversant with downloading rather than CD purchasing

I was won over immediately with the sweet and soothing – if short and sweet - "God Has Created" which features the timeless, delicate vocals of Smokey Robinson, which is a treat. Ironically what slightly puts me off this song is that its melody is so similar to 70s sitcom George & Mildred – all we need is the funky moog and Yootha Joyce would not be out of place popping up screaming "George!" LOL. Hopefully that won’t spoil it for you. I apologise also for my knowledge of 70s sitcoms. Anyway, I digress!

Smokey has a lot more input on the SUPERB "Cruise Control". This really is a cream cut and I am thrilled with how well both vocalists work together. Smokey sounds as brilliant as he ever has, and his performance here is little short of sublime. The man is a real gem and I want more, more, more! The current single release is "Ooo Wee" – a very nice and surprising choice for a single as its actually a very quality ballad with a slightly twangy funk edge. Rapper Kurupt does appear BUT his part is, thankfully, very limited and is spoken word so do not fret. I suppose these artists are here to appeal to the kids and so be it. There’s enough room for everyone’s tastes on here and if Teena can appeal to a new generation let’s hope they will cotton on to the more mature and adult tracks on offer. There surely are enough to choose from.

Sassier still is the enigmatic "Sleeping With The Enemy" which discusses an errant lover who appears to be playing around, but whose attractions and MO still make Teena want to sleep with him – the enemy. Very good song this, and one for the lovely summer days we are experiencing at the moment. "A.P.B" is another winner that kicks off with a touch of Ernie Isley styled guitar. Teena soars vocally on this song and one can tell she really is having a ball with this album. Don’t be put off by the title of the "Love Is A Gangsta" song. This has nothing to do with rap culture – but is instead a very clever song with cleverly constructed lyrics describing how potent love is. Marvin Gaye is given a welcome mention here, and musically we are in funky mode a la Christion or Impromp2. I think this song will have universal appeal.

Lovers of quality soul – and more traditionally crafted Teena Marie recordings – will immediately fall for the gentle "Somebody Just Like You"; packed with real instruments this could be back in the early 1980s, it really is that good. Better still is the KILLER ballad "You Blow Me Away" which is fully orchestrated. Again, the vibe is quality 80s. Teena really pours her heart and soul into this melancholic and personal tribute to the late, great Rick James. This is quality time material with a slight Philly edge – enough said. Worth the price of admission for this track alone.

Add to this brew the bubbly and summery "Romantica" and we have one potent CD indeed. The strings that fuse within the Spanish guitar and bubbling, incessant beat are simply beautiful. Neither can I fault the lyrics that are intricate, clever and perfectly allow Teena’s sweet warbly vocalising to come to the fore. "The Way You Love Me" warms the old cockles, and trhe laid back warm music is juxtaposed to the slightly urgent feel of Teena’s deliver and this works very well. The floaty feeling is instilled with some tasty flute work, and this really is the icing on the cake for me. Just lovely!

My final choice for us lovers of real soul is "Ecstacy" which lopes along nicely aided and abetted with organ a la The SOS Band "Weekend Girl". An essential purchase.
-Barry Towler

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