Ledisi Young is one of more talented R&B singers of present times, period. Honestly, the 41-year old artist has nothing short of extraordinary, soulful pipes; the passion translates easily. Even so, being talented doesn’t necessarily convert to exceptional commercial fortunes, as numerous artists – particularly urban artists – know all too well. Ledisi did manage to debut in the top ten of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart when 2012 LP Pieces of Me bowed at number eight with 36,000 copies sold. How her sixth studio album The Truth will ultimately be received commercially after it’s all said and done is questionable, but critically, The Truth is another well-conceived effort from the singer. In fact, Ledisi opts for more contemporary R&B tunes here, something of a departure. Don’t get it twisted, she’s not suddenly morphed into Beyoncé, but Ledisi keeps things fresh.
“I Blame You” opens with album with an adult contemporary R&B sound, not completely dissimilar stylistically to “Pieces of Me” or much of her previous album of the same title as a whole. It isn’t until the bridge of “I Blame You” that shades of jazziness appear into the picture, where the harmonic progression truly drives the sentiment. Vocally a ‘beast’, Ledisi is always most potent when she kicks into her soaring upper register, something she does here to bring home the accusatory opener. Nearly matching the level of quality, “Rock With You” is the first notion of more contemporary fare from Ledisi. It’s not quite the tour de force of the opener, but its well produced and does give the artist a different look.
“That Good Good” is even more of a stretch stylistically, employing gimmickry from the onset, also conveyed through repetitious lyrics: “I’m the type of woman, woman, woman…” A legitimate question asked while listening to this is, has Ledisi ever sung over an 808 before? Where this is or isn’t her first time, “That Good Good” ends up being more effective than one would expect judging Ledisi’s earlier work. Even if one is secretly thinking “sellout”, there is plenty of excellent, sassy lyrical moments to absorb, whether it’s “I’m the type of woman / know what she wants and / ain’t afraid to say what I need” (Verse one) or “Your time your touch boy give me that affection / I need your attention” (pre-chorus). Honestly, since Ledisi is referencing lovemaking, is a grooving banger so far-fetched? If it is, the slower, seductive “Lose Control” is more of Ledisi’s niche – artistic lane if you will. She’s still talking about sex, but she’s classier on “Lose Control”. Hey, she’s a grown woman!
“Like This” switches gears to a more neo-soul approach, with the throwback vibe perfectly suiting the singer. Even though it references the past it is no anachronism; it still retains hipness. In addition to a sub-style switch, Ledisi also trades the physical for the emotional side of the relationship: “I can’t love you like this…when we argue like this… I can’t love you like this.” Again, Ledisi let’s her upper register shines and cut through exceptionally on her ad-libs. Neo-soul doesn’t last for long as “Anything” shockingly begins with enthusiastic synths – unexpected by all means. While the synths are off-putting on a Ledisi album, eventually things settle in. Again, the ‘look’ is fresh, giving Ledisi a pop-R&B vibe. “Anything” isn’t the cream of the crop of The Truth, but its no deal-breaker either. If nothing else, there are some special lyrical highlights, most notably “Love means anyone who tries to curse you / by default they’re cursing me too.” Oh and the electric guitar solo is definitely on-point.
Titular track “The Truth” is worth the wait, landing at number seven on the track list. “The Truth” benefits from its production, which includes synthesized vocal synths at the onset. The harmonic underpinnings also make “The Truth” special, particularly the colorful quirks. And what is the truth – “I don’t wanna be lonely / don’t wanna spend a lifetime to make you mine / it’s time to face the truth / the truth about me and you…” “Missy Doubt” is definitely interesting, giving the singer an in your face sort of a track. Ledisi does awesomely with funk, though “Missy Doubt” isn’t a personal favorite. Conceptually though, Ledisi has something working here despite slightly flawed execution.
“88 Boxes” more than atones for the question marks left proceeding “Missy Doubt”. If “Missy Doubt” had a good concept going, “88 Boxes” has an even better one. Basically, Ledisi feels as if her relationship – her life – has become nothing but boxed-up memories. It’s over and it’s done – she wasted her time. “88 Boxes I counted / my life it went from years to 88 boxes,” Ledisi sings on the chorus. If The Truth were lacking in innovative spirit, “88 Boxes” infuses some using familiar, authentic scenarios. “Can’t Help Who You Love” ends the album solidly, but certainly is a shade less enthralling than opening punch “I Blame You” or the top echelon of The Truth. Still, the messaging is relatable: “You can’t help who you love / the heart’s just got a brain of its own.”
Calling The Truth Ledisi’s best album would be an overstatement. Don’t get me wrong, The Truth is no slouch, but comparing it to juggernauts like Lost & Found or Turn Me Loose may be a bit much. Still, the ten tracks that grace the LP are generally all worthwhile and do show Ledisi ensuring she doesn’t box herself in as only one type of artist. Maybe “That Good Good” (for example) is exactly the right answer, but it’s not that far off or too ‘left-of-center’ either. Overall, Ledisi gets it right once again. We (the fans) wouldn’t expect any less.
“I Blame You”; “Rock With You”; “Lose Control”; “Like This”; “88 Boxes”
Ledisi • The Truth • Verve • US Release Date: March 11, 2014