When Purpose Music Group released Naturally Me (2014) last year, listeners were treated to what is arguably the most fully realized album of Angela Johnson’s career. “Everything I’ve been waiting to do I put on this one particular album,” she shared in a recent interview with Neo Soul Café. While Johnson’s talents as a singer, composer, producer, and musician have always delivered solid efforts, something special’s been ignited on Naturally Me. The power of Johnson’s creative gestation shines from start to finish. With guests like Raul Midón and Onaje Allan Gumbs, Naturally Me features some of Johnson’s finest compositions, from the frisky and funky “Handz” to the sizzling instrumental “Music’s My Religion” to the profound words and melody of “Black Boy Lullaby”.
Purpose has selected album opener “To Love Again” as Johnson’s first single of 2015 (and the second single off Naturally Me). It’s a smart choice. “I wanted to write a song about having hope for love,” she shares with PopMatters. “Even after a great loss, one can only have faith that it will return. Musically, I was inspired by the Motown sound of the ‘60s. I envisioned a Supremes-like vocal arrangement surrounded by live instrumentation such as strings, horns, guitar, bass, drums, and of course, vintage keys!” Written, arranged, and produced by Johnson, “To Love Again” is anchored by a superb cast of musicians, including Lisala Beatty, Tiffany T’zelle Wilson, and Darius Booker on background vocals.
“To Love Again” is the first Angela Johnson song that could be described as haunting. Stylistically, it takes Johnson in a slightly different direction without losing the searing kind of soul that’s long been her signature. It’s clear that she’s drawing from a new well of inspiration. The strings and background vocals have a spectral presence in the introduction, further embellished by the eerie, high-pitched tone of an organ. “My heart’s broken into pieces and it’s not healing like it should,” Johnson sings, completing the tableau of despair. However, part of the song’s brilliance is how the mood gradually shifts, musically and lyrically, without disrupting the flow. The pre-chorus builds and climaxes with horns before Johnson fervently declares, “I deserve to be loved again!” The second verse calls upon the same doleful atmosphere as the first before Johnson brings listeners back to the light. As the music fades, there’s no doubt that Johnson will emerge triumphant in her quest for love.
Ultimately, “To Love Again”, and Naturally Me as a complete work, prove that soul music is alive and well … and flourishing.