Leela James fiery
voice carries a centurys worth of Blues, Soul, and R&B history.
Since her refreshing slept-on 2005 debut [A Change Is Gonna Come],
the LA songstress has carried the figurative musical torch of her
predecessors Betty Davis, Myra Barnes, Tina Turner, and Lyn Collins.
Last Thursday (June 4), James returned to James Browns old Georgia
stomping grounds to remind the musically inclined that Soul music is
still alive and well.She
began by loosening everyone up with her gospel-tinged artist manifesto
Long Time Coming. Leelas thundering voice reverberated the lyrics
throughout the venue, as she refused to be denied her place as a great
singer (Crown me later, Ima take my crown now/Been writing ten years
now/And finally the real truth is coming out).
dark lighting and smoldering heat put James in her element, and she
declared her love of Southern venues before going into her vibrant
dance number Good Time.
Its hot and funky already so I know Im in the South, James exclaimed. So lets dance, cmon! The
crowd obliged, and Leela blessed them with an awesome extended reprise
that blended her track with the JBs ’70s hit Doing It to Death, and
Rick James classic Give It to Me.
thing concert-goers learn early at a Leela James show is that that
sassy songstress does not tolerate uppity non-dancing folks at her
events. You will be called out to show your moves. During a cover of
Frankie Beverlys Joy and Pain, James ordered several audience members
to hit the stage (myself included) and provide backing vocals and
grooves. No one objected, and that party was in full effect as everyone
waved their hands and sung the ’80s classic.
Leelas latest LP, Lets Do It Again,
is a collection of memorable soul tracks from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.
Not many singers today could do justice live to those tracks, but James
showed great poise in honoring the late Phyllis Hymans spirit before
delivering a near perfect rendition of You Know How to Love Me.
did something that no one should ever do, and something I dont want
any of you to ever do, James stated on Hymans tragic suicide. She
did it because she didnt feel loved. So lets show her that we all
still love her!
memory lane trip remained poignant when she showcased her emotional
range and sincerity on difficult tracks from James Brown (Its a Mans
Mans Mans World) and Al Green (Simply Beautiful). With the former,
the feisty vocalists aching timbre reinterprets the ballad as a
triumphant feminist critique. On the latter, Simply Beautiful became
a stirring revelation of the endless depths of a womans love.
closed with her cover of Sam Cookes Civil Rights anthem A Change Is
Gonna Come. The song featured as the title track for her 2005 debut,
and has dually served the singer as a proclamation of black pride and
hope for revolutionary change in todays music scene. Like Cookes
foundation as a celebrated member of the Soul Stirrers, James utilized
her church roots to increase the songs spiritual potency through
unmistakable gospel phrasings.
a mere 26 years old, Leela James represents one of the most promising
voices for Soul musics future. Of her sophomore cover album, she
explained that she wanted to give props to artists who didnt receive
it during their heyday. Lets hope Ms. James blossoming talent and
career doesnt suffer the same fate.