With her large afro, retro styling, and old-fashioned album covers, it’s easy to tag Georgia Anne Muldrow as a ’70s soul diva who seemingly dropped through a crack in time, landing straight into the 21st century. There is indeed a touch of the Betty Davis about the funky California native, but labeling her as a straight retro revivalist would be a falsehood. For six prolific years now, Muldrow has forged one of the most singular careers in modern soul music, building an unusual discography of avant-garde jazz, scratchy record sampling, Swahili crooning, and eclectic collaborations — over a series of albums that often stretch to the near 30-track mark.
With a more digestible 11-track format and the joint billing presence of underground superstar Madlib, it’s reasonable to believe that Seeds is intended to be her breakout (Muldrow normally self-produces). No one would suggest that Madlib is a mainstream hit-making machine, of course, but with a history of working with more universally embraced artists than Muldrow — Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Slum Village, for example — he seemed a sound choice to help establish herself outside of her loyal but tiny fanbase. Not so. In fact, Seeds continues to stretch the Muldrow sound, journeying through her self-created spiritual world with Madlib firmly in the passenger seat and not vice-versa.
Linking her peculiar discography is Muldrow’s compulsion to tackle the multi-faceted subject of maintaining our Earth, dedicating songs to just about all Mother Nature’s gifts, from the wind and sun, to, of course, the children who stand to inherit it all. Often shedding her brand of soul entirely of its pop leanings for something more befitting the heavy subject matter (or so she believes), Muldrow is more about the message than the melody. “Who’s on the lookout for the seeds?”, she asks on the album’s opener, and most impressive song, “Seeds”. It’s one of her tighter efforts, snappier than the elongated far-out jazz numbers she’s dedicated to the wind, sun and other elements. “Don’t wait”, she urges listeners over a prominent soul sample with wandering Harlem horns and strings. “Wind” (of the Earth, once more) is powered by a tidy drum section — a Muldrow trademark — while “Calabash” also treads familiar ground, with scat-like vocal exercising and a well-worn “Why do we kill each other when we’re all the same?” rhetoric.
“Best Love” is a brighter effort. Here, Madlib really shows and proves. With its liquid bass, rounded drum beat, and glorious horn stabs, the song could pass as a Jill Scott jam — a welcome change of pace from what has come before it. Later, Lib reigns in the instrumentation on “Kneecap Jelly”, a RZA-like hip-hop beat for the saintly singer to run free on, battling everything from the president to child labour in foreign lands. And it’s in these instances she remains at her happiest. Muldrow no doubt draws on her spirituality to power her art, and no super-producer will ever turn her into a Badu-like starlet. And that’s fine, because for now, Seeds is another interesting record to add to Muldrow’s pile.