Late, great R&B legend Teena Marie
was working on her 14th studio album when she suddenly died in December 2010. Some people might have given up on the project after Teena's death and indefinitely shelved it, but fortunately that didn't happen here. The album, which was eventually titled Beautiful
and came out in the U.S. Jan. 15, 2013, was seen to completion by Teena's 20-year-old daughter Alia Rose, who sings with her Mom on two tracks, a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love" and "Rare Breed," which she co-wrote. Anyone fearing that this might turn out to be an album of half-baked leftovers that might do damage to Lady Tee's legacy can rest easy. Fortunately, Beautiful
is a vibrant, well-rounded album of retro R&B with the same strong, powerful vocals Teena Marie fans had come to expect from her.
Labor of Love
It's fairly evident from the quality of this album that it was a labor of love for Teena Marie
's daughter as well as everyone else who helped guide it to completion. Fortunately, the producers resisted the temptation to layer the album with various flourishes that would have sounded out of place or gone against the grain as far as Teena's classic singing style goes. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you might think that this was an an album from Teena's 1980s heyday. Everything about it either intentionally or subconsciously pays tribute to Teena's career as a whole.
Among the vocal highlights is the upbeat first song (and first single), "Luv Letter," where Teena metaphorically becomes ink on paper: "Gonna sign myself to you," she sings. "I'm yours baby, I'm yours, baby." She also gets metaphorical on the following song, "Sweet Tooth," where she equates love to sugary treats: "Like a child in a candy store, so sick with it, I want me some more," she sings. "I can't front, you know my sweet spot." The album's highlight though, just might be the title track, which is basically a love letter from Teena to her daughter. Over a soaring track with guitar work that sounds reminiscent of Isley Brothers musician Ernie Isley, Teena directly addresses to her daughter in the lyrics, singing about the love she has for her girl. "If she was a flower then she'd be a perfect rose, If she was a river then her heart would overflow," Teena sings. "She sees inside my soul."
Another charming thing about Beautiful
is how it hearkens back to a bygone era. Songs like "The Long Play" and "Love Starved" are sexy without being trashy, sensual without becoming explicit. The seemingly lost art of being subtle and using metaphors and clever wordplay in songs to express more lustful feelings without getting too down and dirty.
If Teena Marie is up there somewhere in the heavens looking down on her loved ones, there's no doubt that she'd be pleased with how the production of Beautiful
was handled. So solid is this album that it compares favorably with the last two Teena Marie albums released during her lifetime: 2009's Congo Square
and 2006's Sapphire
. If this turns out to be the last album of all-new Teena music ever released, it definitely befits her legacy as one of the greatest R&B singers of her era.