Lady is a new female duo composed of the singers Terri Walker and Nicole Wray. Walker hails from England; she debuted in 2003 with a soulful album that earned a nomination for the Mercury Prize, and she has released several albums since then. Wray released a solo album, Make It Hot, in 1998, and the title track — which contained a verse from Missy Elliot and production from Timbaland — earned gold status. Since then, Wray has worked with many other artists, including Cam’ron, Mike Jones, and Blakroc (a side project of the band the Black Keys that connects their brand of bluesy rock with rap), contributing vocals and hooks. Both women are experienced musicians fluent in the languages of soul, funk, modern R&B, and hip-hop.
The two women have now joined forces with each other, and with Brooklyn’s Truth and Soul label. Truth and Soul has been making two types of important contributions in the last few years: it has had a hand in both digging up and reissuing great old tunes. See the recent Loving on the Flip Side compilation, or the reissue of the Ghetto Brothers’ Power Fuerza as proof. But the label does not limit itself to excavating the past; it also creates music that updates the sounds of soul and funk from the ’60s and ’70s by working with older singers like Lee Fields and younger faces like Aloe Blacc and Liam Bailey.
From the beginning of Lady’s self-titled debut album, the presence of Truth and Soul is clear in the heavy rhythm section’s crisp percussion and solid groove, the gleaming guitar leads that shimmer clearly, and the punchy horns. There are echoes of the past; “Please Don’t Do It” has an effortless ’60s swing, “Money” draws on KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong”, and Archie Bell and the Drells’ “Tighten Up” peeks through during “Sweet Lady”. Fittingly, there are also touches of the present. “Habit” starts with the sort of descending progression that often appears on Lee Fields’ records, and “Waiting on You” possesses some similarities to Adele’s “I’ll Be Waiting” (the Truth and Soul team has worked with Adele in the past). Everything is precise and pristine, not a note out of place.
For all traditional Truth and Soul touches, this is not just another Truth and Soul release. For one thing, this is one of the first albums from the label with female vocalists. In addition, soul is often the province of the lone vocalist, or a primary vocalist backed by a singing group.Lady goes with the two-pronged vocal attack, a less-common approach, but done well in the past by such duos as Stax’s Sam & Dave). Walker and Wray play well together, trading off the lead, backing each other up, harmonizing to thicken the hooks. They sing about mothers and friendship, instruct men on the proper way to woo them, and warn other men who might use them as tickets to a bank account. They are currently on tour with Lee Fields in Europe, and their warmth and harmonies must be a nice complement to his lonely, worn, aching voice.
The ladies in Lady show the benefits of artistic flexibility — not focusing single-mindedly on a single genre, but working with different sounds, and different people. Hopefully they will continue their fruitful collaboration in the future, and encourage other singers to journey to the Truth and Soul studio.