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Lina

Stranger on Earth

(Atlantic; UK: 15 Jan 2001)

The last two tracks of this debut album are extremely good. “Waiting” is an effective ballad with a charming muted-brass accompaniment and “Stranger On Earth” is a creditable cover of the Dinah Washington song.


Whether you actually get through the rest of the album to hear these little gems depends on how you react to the single and rather singular concept behind the whole project. Either you will find the idea of taking contemporary R&B songs with a hip-hop flavour and lacing them with samples from ‘30s and ‘40s jazz bands refreshing and delightfully different or, like many I suspect, you will find the entire effort gimmicky and irksome.


The opening cut “Playa No More” sounds rather like someone has updated Cabaret and given Sally Bowles a Destiny’s Child song to sing. The old and the new do nothing for each other and the result is a complete mess. “Step Up” begins more promisingly, but a mannered singing style spoils things. This is, despite the blurb, jazz vocals in the Manhattan Transfer sense rather than Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holliday etc. The third track should be dire, re-working as it does Mac Rebennack’s “Right Place,Wrong Time” into the now established cod-jazz-R&B formula. It actually works reasonably well, but adds nothing to the original. From there, the formula established, we proceed through some listenable tracks (“Crazy Love”, “I’m Not the Enemy”) and some annoying ones (“Batches”, “3rd Finger”)—until we get to the aforementioned “Waiting”. There is one exception along the way—the trip-hoppy, student bedsit “Dont Say Nothing”, which is pleasant in a quirky Portishead-Moloko kind of way.


All in all an odd little journey. Not jazz, not R&B—but a pop album with a few ingenious touches and a central idea that has possibilities but doesn’t quite come off. Lina has a fine voice when she isn’t trying so hard to be “jazz” and as one-offs some of the tracks do have a certain style about them. Taken in one go it is rather hard work. The problem is, I think, that the jazz samples are used for their novelty value rather than either to produce some genuine fusion or to set off a series of stylistic contrasts. There was a real chance here to extend the musical vocabulary of current pop-soul but if you want this sort of thing Croydon’s Teish O’Day has done a better job than Lina (who hails from Texas).


There is quite a media push behind this project. This suggests that neither the soul nor the jazz market is the intended target but that strange creature the pop-buying public. If that is so, then this is a superior roduct to much that gets thrown to that particular beast, but the discerning listener might be better served looking elsewhere. After all, jazz samples have been used to great effect by any number of hip-hop crews in recent years (OK, not too many who have used Benny Goodman) and they have done so with far greater respect and conviction than is apparent here. So, a nice enough idea but I bet, and I rather hope, the next album is straight R&B.

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