[16 September 2009]
Turn Me Loose probably should be called Turn Back the Clock for all the retro soul moves Ledisi makes. But then again, she makes everything old new again with a fresh attitude and state-of-the-art production. No, we’re not talking the Pointer Sisters. Ledisi burns up the grooves, rather than putting them through an aerobic workout. Her sound owes more to the traditions of Al Green and Marvin Gaye, where desire comes more from some unexplained internal urge than ethereal love or bodily needs. She trills, she growls, she warbles, she croons; her voice soars and then drops into plain speech. Or as Ledisi notes in the album’s most convoluted track, she’s “Goin’ Thru Changes”. Indeed.
Change is the operative word here, as in the songs “Everything Changes”, “Love Never Changes”, the aforementioned “Goin’ Thru Changes”, and the one cover, the bonus track where she nails Buddy Miles’ percussive “Them Changes”. And change is a good thing. It adds spice and variety to the album and prevents Ledisi from settling into one simple style. The downside is that the sudden mood shifts prevent the album from building to a single climax. No doubt, this is explained by the large number of different producers, a virtual all-star team of contemporary rhythm and blues studio wizards that includes such hitmakers as Carl “Chucky” Thompson (Mary J. Blige, Usher), Rex Rideout (Vanessa Williams, Angie Stone), Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Prince, Janet Jackson), Carvin and Ivan (Justin Timberlake, Jill Scott), Raphael Saadiq (Joss Stone, D’Angelo), and Eric Krasner and Adam Dietch (50 Cents, Soulive). Each individual cut is a winner, but taken as a whole the album can be difficult to listen to in one sitting.
Ledisi co-wrote all the songs here (except the one cover) and this helps unify the album, despite the multitude of producers. She puts her individual stamp on every track, whether it’s an invitation to the pleasures of the flesh, like “I Need Love” and “Say No”, or a spiritual invocation like “Higher Than This”. Ledisi continually seems focused on the right now. Her songs are always sung in the present tense. Whatever she’s doing (or not doing) is in the current moment. This makes the experience intense.
The best R&B continually draws from the well of deep emotions. Ledisi understands that secret and no matter what she feels, she really expresses it. Ledisi also knows that nothing is more clichéd than soul music that just wails, and so she goes through the gamut of human experiences. She appreciates the transformative power of living in the moment and takes the listener on her journey. That’s why she’s always changing.
Turn Me Loose is a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs and twists and turns that can make you gasp in awe, but when it’s over you are in the same old place. Enjoy the album for what it is, but remember life itself is a trip instead of an amusement park attraction. Ledisi wouldn’t be trippin’ if she applied that concept to the album as a whole instead of the individual songs (like “Trippin’”).