Thu, Apr 24, 2014 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews

Food by Kelis; Redemption by Glen David Andrews

By Ben Ratliff & Nate Chinen  /  NY Times News Service

Food by Kelis

Kelis Rogers has been around the block in the pop business since the late ‘90s, and at least a third of her charm as a pop artist is that her veteran wisdom always feels clearly implied; in her songs, she plays the hopeful skeptic, never the ingenue. The second third is her instinct — it’s not a strategy, not a formula, but something vaguer — toward making R&B records that don’t sound normative in the years they first appear. The last is her semi-hoarse voice. It’s her sound, not her affectation; she doesn’t make it cute.

So the song Floyd — several songs into her broad and confident sixth album, Food — is a good Kelis love ballad. “Sure, I’m self-sufficient, blah-blah, independent,” she rasps, affecting not boredom but a desire to be understood. “Truthfully, I’ve got some space, I want that man to fill it.” And then, over a super-slow chorus with steady organ tones — and a horn arrangement that develops its own complex life as the song moves forward — she sings the repeated phrase “I want to be blown away.” It’s an expression of health: a forthright daydream.

Food is produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, who has surrounded her in live-instrument warmth: resonant bass and drum grooves, brass and reeds, string sections, some folk acoustic-guitar picking. (The album’s title, and its food references in titles and some lyrics, comes from the fact that she has been to culinary school since her previous album, the electronic-dance-music Flesh Tone; she is now a certified saucier.) Sitek fiddles with style: You hear traces of Elliott Smith, Fela, Link Wray. Sometimes the tracks are merely eclectic, and you feel that this would be pretty impressive for, say, a Sheryl Crow record. But sometimes it’s almost mutant, and then it feels right for Kelis.

The record repeatedly refers, via rhythm and horn phrasing, to the endlessly recyclable tendencies of Memphis soul and Afrobeat — shorthand signals, these days, that an artist has taste — but the good news is that it doesn’t use them as crutches. The songs wriggle away from whatever pre-existing style seems to guide them, through bizarre middle sections. In Change, her slowed-down voice, singing out of harmony, floats over the groove. In Cobbler, there’s a sudden key change, a fluttering of bass clarinet and flute way down in the mix, and Kelis proclaiming in long tones, “You — make me hit notes — that I never sing!” (And from the backup singers: “She never sings!”)

— BEN RATLIFF, NY Times News Service

Glen David Andrews paints his testimony in a range of emotional colors — from the broken humility of a supplicant to the hard-bitten pride of a survivor — on his tough-sounding new release, Redemption. As that title suggests, it’s an album about his dedication to the righteous path after a long season in darkness. “You don’t know/What I know,” Andrews bellows on You Don’t Know, one of his flintier originals, “And you ain’t been where I’m going.” His big voice, all growl and gravel, sounds at once rousing and worn, essentially battle-scarred.

Andrews is an emblematic product of New Orleans, where it’s not unusual for the biggest stars to also be the busiest utility players. Like his cousin Troy Andrews, known to the world as Trombone Shorty, he grew up in the Treme neighborhood, playing trombone in brass bands. (They both naturally appeared on Treme, the HBO series.)

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