Ledisi sings with emotional swoops. She lets her voice climb the scales and create beats that emphasize strong feelings.
Ledisi’s latest album, Let Love Rule works as a loosely shaped concept album with spoken word interludes that make the premise clear. It’s about living for today, remembering tomorrow is a new start, that pain is essential to forgiveness, listening needed for understanding, and love is all that really matters. These may be trite clichés, but like Beyoncé using that old saw about what to do when life gives you lemons, Ledisi uses these messages as a springboard for a range of idiosyncratic songs and a way to tie them together into a neat bundle.
Ledisi didn’t write the spoken word interludes, which are very short and credited to Iyanla Vanzant and Soledad O’Brien. However, she is listed as co-writer on all but one of the other tracks. The connections between the songs may be thin, but the individual cuts are excellent. Ledisi sings with emotional swoops. She lets her voice climb the scales and create beats that emphasize strong feelings. Sometimes Ledisi sings the words so fast that one can’t catch them all but merely feel the excitement, as on the pleasurable “Add to Me”. Other times, as on the seductive “Here”, she offers a sultrier approach. Her “ooh oohs” on this track come right out of the Chaka Khan “Through the Fire” songbook in a good way.
Two of the tunes feature guest vocalists: BJ the Chicago Kid on the ardent “U2 4Ever” and John Legend on the more impassioned “Give You More”. BJ doesn’t come in until after halfway through his song, but his supple voice meshes well with Ledisi’s insistent declarations of love. Legend is right there from the beginning of the track. The two take turns singing about a more obsessive amour before joining together to promise to give the other “more than that”. What “that” is can only be imagined.
The album’s contemporary instrumentation with synthesizers, drum machines, echo and reverb effects, vocal enhancements, and such function to make the sound modern. Ledisi may have a classic soul voice, but this is far from retro. Instead, there is a kitchen sink approach to the production. On songs like “High” Ledisi seems to jam with everything from what sounds like tubas and a stretched-out tape loop to total silence and finger snaps as she croons about the feeling love gives her.
The title cut gives prominence to the percussion as it allows Ledisi to repeat the title phrase as an incantation. The dangers of putting the heart above the head are well-known, but the singer’s fervent enthusiasm suggests she doesn’t care about making intelligent choices. Perhaps that’s why the interludes about pain and forgiveness seem so specious. The songs themselves reveal that Ledisi is only setting herself up for heartache. It’s one thing to believe in love. It’s quite another to believe in a lover who may not be the one for you.
Ledisi suggests that one must take risks to find love. That may be true, but as Lenny Kravitz sang in a song by the same name back in 2007, one should be strong to make love work. This sentiment is repeated in the last song on the record, “If You Don’t Mind” written by gospel singer Kirk Franklin who also produced the track and will join Ledisi on a 27-city trek called “The Rebel, The Soul & The Saint Tour”. It’s unclear who is the rebel, the soul or the saint -- and there are only two of them. But Ledisi has enough of all three qualities to meet the requirements of whichever one she chooses to be.