Tanika Charles Shows Off Her 'Gumption'

Tanika Charles draws on classic soul while staying grounded in the present on her new album, The Gumption.

The Gumption
Tanika Charles

Record Kicks

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.





'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.


Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.


PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.


Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.


'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.