Tanika Charles draws on classic soul while staying grounded in the present on her new album, The Gumption.
10 May 2019
It's tempting to listen to the classic structure of Trinidadian-Canadian singer-songwriter Tanika Charles' verses and catchy choruses and try to pigeonhole her as a vintage soul singer. That isn't completely off, but it's not fair to relegate Charles' sound to the past. Hers is a style that takes cues from the golden era of Motown, to be sure, as well as 1990s R&B, but more than anything, Charles' music is made for this moment, with modern pop sensibilities and lyrically evident strength of will. Fittingly, her latest album is called The Gumption, and on it, Charles continues to make waves.
The first notes of opening track "Tell Me Something" reintroduce us to Tanika Charles' nimble voice as she enters, soaring and melismatic, and then begins to admonish a man who won't commit - a familiar trope that Charles pulls off by refusing to be anything but direct about her feelings. "See, I'm not sitting around, waiting for you to make that call," she says in a spoken word ending. "And I'm not talking about that phone call; I'm talking about that decision. You know, the one where you choose me, and no one else." This is the authenticity you can expect from Gumption, as Charles lays her viewpoint unashamedly bare.
It isn't that she's trying to be something supernatural. Tanika Charles is a human woman: strong, emotional, messy, and honest about it. Lilting guitar riffs on "Coming Home" accompany a melancholy reflection on a go-nowhere relationship, leading to Charles eventually shouting out a rhythmic conclusion, each syllable crisp: "I need to do what I need to / You need to do what you need to / I need to leave / You need to leave!" More topically, "Upside Down" gives a direct shoutout to the Time's Up movement and decries naysayers in power. Charles is grounded in the present, and ready to confront the specific issues she faces, whether they be interpersonal grief or systemic abuse of half the population.
There are happier themes, too, like on the exuberant single "Love Overdue", where Charles' ecstatic rejoicing and a little organ music work together to bring a little gospel flavor to the mix. "Dans les Nuages" is an easy, hopeful love song. Short track "Cadillac Moon" has a dreamy bounce, while penultimate track "Since You Been Gone" goes from bittersweet to upbeat as Charles successfully works through a hard farewell ("I'm drinking water, I'm meditating, I'm doing yoga three times a week," she says behind a swaying refrain, a statement relatable to any contemporary individual who has tried to get their life together post-breakup) and concludes that she truly is better off on her own.
Classically soulful she may be, but Tanika Charles is an artist of her time, and this new release, even with its occasional lulls, shows indomitable talent and spirit alike. Charles' voice, heart, and mind are full, and the way her songs flow forth is exhilarating. Her commanding presence and clear passion for her craft allow Tanika Charles to continue moving forward with style on Gumption.