Singer Alicia Olatuja has tackled the songs of female composers for her latest album, which was produced by Kamau Kenyatta, responsible for successful records by Gregory Porter and Kathy Kosins lately.
I have written about Alicia several times here, having seen her showcasing during APAP in early 2016 and also reviewing her last album “Timeless” (2014) and most recently hearing her on drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s new album “Songs Of Freedom“. Putting Joni Mitchell, Brenda Russell, Angela Bofill, Sade, and many more on the table is already a big plus as far as I’m concerned. In combination with Alicia’s thick, robust, strong, and angelic voice (she has worked with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir too), this is almost a match made in heaven.
Billy Childs, Dayna Stephens, Etienne Charles, Sullivan Fortner, Ben Williams, Ulysses Owens Jr. and Jeremy Pelt are among the musicians helping Alicia to bring out her best, as you can hear for example on “People Make The World Go Round”, which has a pretty strong arrangement (from Alicia herself) echoing the urgency and timeliness of the lyrics. Brenda Russell’s “So Good So Right” is a clever opener since the time has actually never been better to underscore women composers.
First single off the album, Sade‘s “No Ordinary Love” stays strongly connected to the original, but has a more soulful approach here, thanks to Jon Cowherd‘s arrangement and strong bass work from Ben Williams. I also like the fact that the drums are recorded pretty upfront and in-your-face. Alicia reminds me a bit of Lizz Wright on Tracy Chapman‘s “Give Me One Reason”. Never really being a big admirer of Frau Chapman’s work as a singer, her compositions still feel good to this day and the bluesy touch on this one, together with a brash horn arrangement and mean guitar by David Rosenthal, take this tune into another atmosphere (cool backing vocals too).
I’m very impressed by the fact that Alicia has chosen a track from my favorite Joni Mitchell album, an album that almost never gets covered by artists who choose to interpret Mitchell’s huge oeuvre. “Cherokee Louise” from “Night Ride Home” (1991) is done to perfection, capturing the essence of the song and not obscuring it. Great drum work again and a beautiful solo by Sullivan Fortner complement Alicia’s heavenly vocals. We also get a song from British singer and songwriter Imogen Heap (“Hide And Seek”), which has a very strong vocal arrangement especially toward the end of the song.
Alicia turns to Spanish for “Gracias A La Vida”, written by Chilean songwriter and composer Violeta Parra. It suits her extremely well and once again, the subtle, tender, but highly effective backing vocals work wonder. Very cool arrangement towards the end again. Two “moon” songs are sitting back to back on the album: “Child Of The Moon” by Natalya Phillips is heartbreaking and Angela Bofill‘s “Under The Moon And Over The Sky” a very welcome reminder that Angie still ranks among the best female singers and songwriters. A refreshing surprise is the use of the Xhosa part in the middle section of the song which is usually left unnoticed in other covers of this song.
LA based singer and songwriter Molly Pease is featured here with her song “Transform” which Alicia sings with piano accompaniment only (Jon Cowherd) and Justine Bradley‘s “Oriana” is another rather unusual, but hopeful add to this collection which I think has one of the best repertoires in recent memory. Alicia does Kate Bush‘s “This Woman’s Work” on her own, with layered vocals, adding yet another perspective and color to her set, working in upper registers where many other singers would have cracked altogether. “Just Wait”, the only original composition on the album, is truly a fitting add and really belongs there and shows Alicia’s broad versatility as an artist. She is the missing link between Lizz Wright and Dianne Reeves I might add, but clearly with her own unique style and it just feels good to have her around.