Marsha Ambrosius – Late Nights & Early Mornings | Album Review

Marsha Ambrosius is a name very familiar to Soul lovers the world over. Since her beginnings with Floetry, her writing for Michael Jackson and other contemporary artists, her distinctive voice and writing style has gathered much popularity and respect. Given the amount of time since the Floetry project disbanded, it feels almost bizarre to say that Late Nights and Early Mornings is her debut solo album. We, nonetheless, welcome it with open arms.

Post ‘Anticipation (Intro),’ the album moves into ‘With You,’ on which label mate Alicia Keys is a credited writer. This track is perhaps the epitome of Marsha Ambrosius’ style. Conjuring up visions of a 2011 ‘Say Yes’ in it’s ultra laid back drums, tense and sparse piano chords and all the sensuality that any one woman could capture and put into a song. As much as Marsha’s songs are famous for their sexual nature and inclusion of moaning and groaning, there is no feeling of cringing or questioning of the honesty and integrity of it. Marsha quite clearly doesn’t do it to sell records, she does it to express how she feels, much like Prince did.
And Prince is the inspiration for the Rich Harrison produced title track. Containing the drums that made Prince famous, the LM-1 drum machine and a high fluttering piano part, Marsha brings one of her main musical influences to the fore. This track is particularly wonderful due to the dissonance in the melodic parts, over which Marsha effortlessly glides between her head and chest voice to evoke all the emotion and sexuality that Prince would. Add to this her ad-libs and you have one of the best Prince influenced tracks I have heard in some time.
Marsha turns the vibe of the album on it’s head with ‘Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player),’ the first single from the album. The lyrics of this track are particularly great, brimming with all the bitterness you would expect from someone who gets left for someone else; “I’m Salt Lake City/Now I’m up on out the picture,” “Hope that she Kim Kardashian-ed her way up,” wrapping popular American sports culture with it all; “Don’t know the difference ‘tween a Touchdown and a Lay-Up.” The musical direction of the track is ‘current’ and in the popular idiom which, given her popular culture and sports references, is a fitting match.

The second single ‘Far Away’ once again, turns the mood around from the previous clever and sharp track to a more serious and honest track. This Just Blaze produced track probably makes a lot more sense with the video. Just as any other song, this one on record is open to interpretation and may easily be misinterpreted as another song about a lost lover.

However with the video it is not only given it’s proper context, but opens up the can of worms that is other social and community issues, namely the bullying of homosexuals. The song itself is about Marsha’s friend who committed suicide, another aspect of the video. The whole campaign is not only clever, but touching. The song itself captures the heartbreak of the situation via Marsha’s impassioned vocal ad-libs, which at times sound like she is fighting back tears. The honesty of the lyrics only intensifies this.

‘Lose Myself’ is a track written by Lauryn Hill and it shows. The almost rapped verses and melody of the choruses say Lauryn Hill like nothing else. Although I wasn’t a fan of the production, the song itself is fantastic, with Marsha bringing through her Lauryn influence, yet keeping her voice and style in tact, not losing an inch of its signature sound.

‘Your Hands’ returns to the very sparse and sensual style, with former production partners Dre and Vidal on the buttons. It’s a great number for the lovers in the house and the babymaking music that we have come to expect from Marsha.

‘The Break Up Song’ is another sparse song, which has an altogether different style. Built upon a very strong chord progression, a melody highly reminiscent of Michael Jackson and honest lyrics, this track does what it says on the tin: talks and captures all the feelings of a break up. The song structure is odd, feeling free, but this only further conveys the confusion typically felt in such a situation.

Late Nights and Early Mornings shows us a bit more diversity from Ambrosius. Her cover of UK Trip Hop outfit Portishead’s ‘Sour Times’ is not only a nod to her British origin, but a show of her ecleticism. The track itself doesn’t hugely differ musically from the original, based on a Lalo Schifrin sample, but it does sound like it was actually written by Marsha, as the melody seems to perfectly fit her voice.

Although it’s apparent that Marsha is influenced by old soul, this has never really been a sound she has explored. The Focus produced ‘Tears’ is very reminiscent musically of something Aretha Franklin may have done, but Marsha’s heavily stylised voice makes it sound far from a copycat track.

‘Chasing Clouds’ has a more pop driven sound, probably owing to the production by Syience, who produced Cheryl Cole’s ‘Parachute.’ This didn’t particularly arouse my earbuds, however I can appreciate that it is a well written song.

At the end of the album there lies a ‘Butterflies’ remix. Unfortunately, this was something I deemed an unnecessary inclusion on the album. The remix added nothing to the original and neither did it bring a new direction or flavour.

It seems that Marsha is a woman of exquisite taste, in that her personal favourite from the album is ‘I Want You To Stay,’ as is mine. This song was written with Michael Jackson in mind, and Marsha was to present it to him before his unfortunate and untimely death. I find it a shame, because this song would likely fit Michael Jackson like his silver glove. The melody and structure are straight up MJ, with the break containing a ‘Human Nature’ style vocal motif. The harmonies are something that Michael himself would have come up with. The music has a grooving two step feel to it in the verses and is built upon bright open chords. The structure isn’t typical of a pop song at all, but yet again, this is a form of experimentation that Marsha explores well.
Overall, I find this a solid and diverse offering from Marsha. Someone of her reputation could easily stay in a comfort zone and just produce something that her core fan base would appreciate. With this album I feel she reaches out to a wider audience through her more Pop orientated numbers.

Furthermore, she gives her fans all the sensuality they desire, her trademark vocals carry her through a Lauryn Hill penned song, a Portishead cover and she hooks up with a range of producers to add variety to her sound. This is very commendable, and although she had released a string of mixtapes prior to this album, the wait had us all wondering where she would go with the album and I am glad we have the fruits of her labour to further prove to us what we already knew: Marsha Ambrosius is an unique, distinctive and progressive singer who can write for any given artist on any given day.

Late Nights & Early Mornings is available to buy on iTunes and all good stores worldwide now.

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