Way back in 1995 a group called Groove Theory had a moderately sized hit with a track entitled “Tell Me” taken from their self-titled debut. “Keep Tryin’” and “Baby Luv” followed, but the album, despite its quality, never fully realised its potential. Nearly five years, a few guest appearances and a baby later, the former lead singer of said group releases this her long-awaited debut solo album.
In many ways her timing is perfect. During her somewhat lengthy hiatus artists such as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and more recently, Angie Stone have gained considerable critical acclaim for their “Nu Classic Soul” albums. Entirely written and produced by Amel and her husband Laru this is an album in which the artist unashamedly acknowledges her Afro-centric roots. Indeed, this exceptional release effortlessly intertwines the strands of a vast array of musical influences that range from jazz to soul and hip-hop.
Offering inspiration in the face of adversity, the opening track “Get Up”, despite obvious vocal differences, has an almost “Badu-esque” quality that is enhanced by Amel’s exceptional background scatting (the British release also contains a remix of this track featuring Mos Def). Following this, the highly rhythmic hip-hop/jazz-influenced “I N I” sees Larrieux addressing the issue of constructing our own perception of the world in the face of the definitions that are frequently imposed upon us: simply stunning.
Next up are the almost “trippy” groove of “Sweet Misery,” the extremely addictive “Searchin’ for My Soul,” and the classic sounding retro soul of “Even If.” Subsequent to these we find, the socially conscious tale of unrealised potential that is “Infinite Possibilities,” the shuffling “Shine,” and the superb jazz-influenced “Down.”
The album closes with the groovy mid-tempo gem “Weather” (which incidentally briefly features Amel’s child, Sky), and the heartfelt “Make Me Whole” where Amel, accompanied only by a piano, sings beautifully. Consisting of only 10 tracks (and a bonus remix) this album is relatively short, but, as with last year’s Jazzyfatnastees album, the quality of the material more than makes up for the lesser quantity. In a world where so many R&B/soul albums are constructed in a somewhat formulaic manner, Epic, much like Columbia with the Frank McComb album, must be heartily congratulated for granting such an undeniably talented artist the freedom to breath creatively. To my mind this album more than measures up to the work of both Lauryn Hill and Angie Stone and I sincerely hope that it receives the recognition it deserves. A serious contender for female R&B album of the year.