Leela James – My Soul | Album Review

When hearing Leela James‘ decadent, husky vocals on a track, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been dropped into a 1970s time warp. Everything from the album art to her musical tone invokes a feeling of nostalgia for that era of classic soul, regardless of whether you were alive then or not.

My Soul is James’ third release and her first since being signed to soul label Stax Records. It was released on the 25th of May 2010 and debuted at number 7 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip Hop albums chart.

From the start, this is an album that you want to be listening to in a smoke filled blues club. One where you can barely make out the singer on the stage through the hazy atmosphere and the glare of the spotlight but the vocals reach your ears effortlessly.

The album opens with the bold declaration that is ‘I Ain’t New To This’ where James states that she worked to get to where she is now; I’m no overnight success/I’ve been paying dues. It’s certainly a rowdy, attention gabbing opening which I’m sure is what James was going for.

The tempo is turned down slightly for ‘So Cold’, which is actually a love song despite its title that may suggest otherwise. The soulful love theme continues with ‘The Fact Is’ until we reach ‘I Want It All’. Now this song is where the funkier elements of James’ style kick in as she passionately states, “I want 40 acres and a mule/ I want a big house too/ I wanna have no debt/ I wanna sign my own checks/ I want A1 credit/ I want a platinum record/ I want equality/ And your apology.” From the vocals to the lyrics, I feel like this track wouldn’t be out of place on an Aretha Franklin album.

A fairly typical love duet is found in ‘Mr. Incredible – Ms. Unforgettable’ which features a collaboration with fellow soulful vocalist Raheem DeVaughn. Although it’s a nice enough song to listen to, you can’t help but feel like you’ve heard it all before with this one. The same is true for ‘Tell Me You Love Me’ which is the first single from the album. The song samples The Manhattans’ soul classic ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’ but despite its use of such a well loved song the track is lackluster to say the least.

Thankfully things pick up again with ‘Let It Roll’ which is has all the elements of a summer hit with it’s ‘60s sound and soaring vocals. A more modern sound is found at the tail end of the album, notably in ‘Supa Lova’ which has a slightly sinister intro with a heavy beat and violins however before long, it’s softened up by the bass and James’ deep and deft vocals. As nice as it is, I can’t help feeling it’s very Angie Stone-esque.

This is one thing about James’ work – it forever reminds me of someone else. It may be a repercussion from her 2009 effort, Let’s Do It Again, which was made up entirely of covers. It could equally be that her voice simply epitomizes the sound of a bygone era. Either way, as unique as James sounds, her songs just don’t embody that same quality.

As a lover of soul music, I do hope that this album takes James to new heights, however I just can’t help feeling like I’ve heard it all before. The songs seem to be made with the same recipes that a lot of the soul classics used but with a different brand of ingredients, resulting in a taste that isn’t quite the same.

That being said there’s no doubting that there is talent in Leela Jame. This album is one for anyone that has a penchant for soulful songstresses and heartfelt love songs.

My Soul is out now via Stax Records.

–Amber Yeshpaul


* Win a pair of tickets to see Leela James perform live in London this Thursday! *

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