Leela James Review
I wrote about Leela James a while back and got moderately squee-ish about her. I didn't know she even had an album out, until I found it in HMV. So there we go. So how does Leela James translate on an album? Firstly, you can almost guarantee Joss Stone comparisons will be made, if only because Leela sounds just like a moderately more soulful Joss. But, what makes Leela so good is that she's reminiscent of 'Soul Sessions' Joss; soulful, gifted and funky as opposed to 'Mind, Body & Soul' Joss; hyped, overrated and whiney.
'Music' is a bouncing, laid-back spit at American music and particularly the perfunctory stylised attitude to music but also a celebration of the good times. She is horrified by music becoming more of a status symbol than a passion or a talent. Sees America's hip-hop culture dominate in a world and a genre that was pioneered by Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Marvin Gaye. Consider this Leela's mission statement as the rest of the album is a modern soul homage spattered with nostlagic nods to the greats. Leela seems to want to gap the bridge between soul music and hip-hop. Leela sums up Indie Girl and Pop Boy's feelings perfectly when she sings "where'd the music go?/It's all about the video/We don't sang no mo'/Where's the music gone?". Ironically of course, this is the kind of song that would normally have us reaching for the keyboards for another rant and pleaing for the return of the Scissor Sisters. But she's actually making a lot of sense to me.
Stand out track and lead single (I believe) 'Good Life' is a celebration of life and Saturday nights and "getting your booty on the dancefloor". Live of course it would clearly have loads of improv and would go on for about an hour an a half. This is a rather fitting follower to 'Music'. One mopes, one tells you to get off your ass and stop moping. Oh! It's only one of those bloody schizophrenic pop records! Oh! This is getting good.
It only gets better with 'Ghetto', the Wyclef Jean written track, which contains the simultaneously brilliant and random refrain of "One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Rock!" and seems to be your typical 'he ain't yo' man, he's my man, I grew up in the ghetto and I'm gonna beat you up' kind of record. You know the type. Oh, you don't?
Then Leela lets herself down. After three songs of relatively original subject matter, she gives us standard soul-pop fare. 'Mistreating Me' is your standard-fare feminist, 'I'm beaten down by men but now I realise I don't need them' r&b song. And it is very good. It's one of those ones that builds up in layers, refrains, choruses and strings that just sound like red wine being spilt on a tear stained pillow. In fairness, though the subject matter is standard-fare, this song is far from average.
Leela then does nothing to extinguish the Joss similarities with 'When You Love Somebody' which sounds like it was plucked straight from 'Soul Sessions'. The voice is particularly uncanny. The song sounds just identical. Even the angsty struggle of blind, betrayed trust is identical to that of 'Dirty Man'. Like I said, it sounds like it was plucked straight from 'Soul Sessions'. And this is no bad thing, in my books anyway.
The Kanye tracks 'It's Alright' and 'Didn't I' lack the joie de vivre and samples of and 'Gold Digger''Touch The Sky' but they can still hold there own on the album and bookend the aceness (as they come at the end). They do sound weird. As they are truly modern Kanye West songs sung by a singer and on an album who sound like they belong to another decade with jostling guitars and nods to the 1970s throughout. These are the sort of songs Joss should've tried to have had for 'Mind, Body & Soul'. In fact, the whole of 'Change Is Gonna Come' sounds like a bundle of Joss' wasted opportunities. Which is a shame as the songs are wasted, destined to remain practically unheard forever and Joss' talents are similarly wasted, consigned to second-rate material that makes her sound like a whiney cunt with a blocked nose.
Leela does have her weaker moments, 'Rain' and 'My Joy' for example, in which Leela's slips into the realms of mediocrity and switches from 'vaguely interesting' to 'snooze button'. Then there's 'Soul Food' which is about having sex and eating and which in one foul swoop moves Leela from the totally sublime to the totally ridiculous. Basically, if Delia Smith ever wrote a song about herself, this would be it. "I'm sweet like sweet potato pie/Like collard greens with yams on the side". It is good, really, providing you don't pay too much attention to the lyrics. It does have to be heard to be believed though. Especially the feeder-fetish-tastic refrain "feed me feed me feed me" at the end. Not Raphael Saadiq's finest moment, it has to be said
Another one of the weaker moments I'm still not quite over is Leela's take on No Doubt's 'Don't Speak'. Anybody who knows even the slightest little bit about Pop Boy will know that I want to be Gwen Stefani when I grow up and am the biggest Gwen fan in the world. At first, the idea of 'Don't Speak' done soul style was intriguing, to say the least. Now I need therapy, and a good head-bash with a hairbrush in front of the mirror to the original. Now I know just how the White Stripes' fans feel. Sorry about that.
'Change Is Gonna Come' is laden with soul-pop gems and contemporary R&B jewels like 'Music', 'Ghetto', 'Good Life' and 'It's Alright' all the way to 'When You Love Somebody', 'Mistreating Me' and the cover of the Sam Cooke classic and title track 'A Change Is Gonna Come' that ought to have Joss Stone shaking in her thong toed sandals. Production from Commissioner Gordon (and although I don't claim to be well-informed on this genre this is supposed to be a very good thing, he did things (albums) with Lauryn Hill and everything) and writing credits from Kanye West, Raphal Saadiq and Wyclef Jean prove that someone must be taking Leela seriously. And this woman does deserve to be taken seriously as she's got a great set of lungs on her. Let's just not EVER mention the No Doubt cover ever ever again, OK?