LaTanya: self-titled


By Maurice Bottomley

R&B is selling hugely—but some mourn the death of subtlety and soulfulness. Neo-soul rectifies that—but can be too retrospective and short on the bass-heavy, street-tough quality we love about the new stuff. So here comes an album with great vocals, well-crafted tunes and an absolutely contemporary vibe. Big event, right? Apparently not. This wonderful release has slipped into the waters without causing a single ripple as far as I can see. If there is any justice this will change and in a year or so we will look back fondly on this debut as the first sign of a major talent.

LaTanya works both as a soul album and as an R&B album oozing with soul. It contains hip-hop driven club cuts, radio-friendly head nodders and classy ballads. On top of that, this is a song driven affair, not just beats with a few hooks sung over them. The production is tight and LaTanya’s voice is superb throughout.The guest contributions (from rappers Twista and Memphis Bleek plus ‘70s legend Al Hudson) all score and there is enough variation musically to sustain interest throughout. There is a falling off of quality at some points, but out of a generous 14 tracks at least ten are as good as anything you will hear on the current urban scene.

The two openers are both absolutely now. “What U On” is a mid-tempo jam with jagged beats and boasts a rapid-fire rap burst from Twista while “This House” is all firing percussion featuring a relaxed Memphis Bleek who riffs a quizzical rebuttal to the song’s accusations of male inadequacy and infidelity. The chorus gives a good indication of the whole album’s contemporary take on traditional soul diva themes: oh, no, this house is not a home is the timeless first line—oh, no, this shit just can’t go on brings us smack up to date. On both songs Latanya’s vocal maturity and conviction carry the day.

Another adultery song follows. “Keys” is the sort of song Betty Wright or Shirley Brown used to handle so well but with a hard modern edge to both lyrics and music. The next song is definitely old school, Kevin McCord’s lovely ballad “If You Play Your Cards Right” sung perfectly and with neat guitar flourishes. A good one to sway along with.

“Why You Acting Shady” is a gem. This is R&B at its best—infectious hook and dance floor friendly rhythms and a voice that takes no prisoners. Other highlights are the duet with Hudson—smooth in all the right ways—and the modern gospel two-stepper, “He Will”. LaTanya, it is no surprise to learn, learned her singing skills in the best academy—the church—and she gives a full-throated performance on this uplifting and winning number.

This talented performer has surrounded herself with some fine musicians and excellent producers and arrangers (special mention to M.Doc). The project is supervised by Ray Gregory, who was apparently the first to spot the potential of the young Chicagoan. It can’t have been hard as LaTanya already stands head and shoulders over a whole crowd of better-known but lesser figures in the field.

Any female singer working in the soul/urban genre has both a strong tradition to absorb and some high standards to match. LaTanya has absorbed that tradition well and updated it without mangling it. I would be happy placing her alongside some of the best of her sisters, past and present. Good to be able to report that the Windy City can still turn out the real thing.

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