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Album Review: Leela James - 'My Soul'

Deeply Satisfying

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)

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Album Review: Leela James - 'My Soul'
© Stax Records/Concord Music Group.
Leela James is a woman who came along 25 years too late. If she released her third album, My Soul, in 1975 instead of 2010, there's no doubt that it would have been a bona fide hit and she'd be much more appreciated as a vocalist. My Soul is like Leela's voice: sometimes gritty, sometimes sweet, but always deeply satisfying, like good Southern cooking. And it also doesn't fit into today's cookie cutter world of generic R&B and pseudo-Soul music, which means that the album, even as great as it is, is probably going to go unnoticed by much of the music-loving public.

Raw, Soulful

If you appreciate '70s-style Soul music, then there's probably not a song on Leela James' My Soul that you won't like. The album is filled from top to bottom with genuine, raw soulful tunes that can knock your socks off. Exhibit A is "Mr. Incredible, Ms. Unforgettable," a passionate duet between Leela and another under-appreciated artist, Raheem DeVaughn. The combination of his lightly sweet and seductive vocals and her heavier, rougher-edged voice is a great match: "My love is light as a feather, but hard as a rock," Raheem sings at one point during the steamy, sensual track.

Another winner is "I Want It All," where Leela sings about what her perfect world would look like: "I want 40 acres and a mule, I want a big house too, I wannna have no debt, I wanna sign my own checks, I want A1 credit, I want a platinum record." She goes on to rattle off about a dozen other things, including love and respect. The song, like most of the other material here, is backed by live instruments, adding to the song's warm, full sound. The album's first two singles, "Tell Me You Love Me" and "So Cold" are also well-sung and well-produced tracks, and are a welcome change from the songs that Leela belted out on her somewhat lackluster last album, Let's Do It Again, which consisted of remakes of songs by a variety of artists, including the rock bands the Rolling Stones and Foreigner.

Flexing Her Vocal Muscles

© Stax Records/Concord Music Group.
When a singer is good - really, really good - she or he doesn't have to rely on studio gimmicks and/or big-name producers to create a hot record or album. And that's certainly the case with My Soul. Unlike the crop of mediocre, so-called R&B/Soul singers on the radio today, this is an album dominated not by synthesizers or drum machines, but by one person's voice. Among today's generation of singers of urban music very few, other than Mary J. Blige is Leela's equal when it comes to pure, unadulterated vocal ability. And Leela flexes her vocal muscles throughout My Soul with the backing of live music, something that enhances the album even more.

This is an album that would have been right at home if it had been released in the mid-70s, but sticks out like a sore thumb today. Today's R&B and Soul is mostly about machines and cold, robotic sounds, something that has essentially robbed Soul music of it's ... well, soul. But this is an album that not only bucks that trend, it pays no attention to the canned hit-making formula that's used today to produce albums, like the trend of having at least a few rappers and other guest vocalists, and relying on Auto-Tune to spice things up. No, My Soul is the type of music that hasn't been in vogue in years: it's a consistent, high-quality and no-frills Soul album. And it's also one of the best releases of 2010.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by Stax Records. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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