Review: Lina Returns To the Spotlight

SugarHill Nightclub, 4/11/08Atlanta, GeorgiaNightclubs historically have been sanctuaries for jazz and soul music. Artists like Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington toiled in these temples, which sowed the roots that birthed their current legendary status. Lina, their spiritual understudy, continued that tradition at the SugarHill Nightclub a few weeks back. Located in the historic Underground Atlanta, the venue makes you feel like you are removing yourself from the mainstream. To reach the club, you literally descend below the city. With this act you leave behind the vagrants, inebriated club goers, and other noise you find in any bustling downtown. Here, you find artists like Lina plying their trade and becoming the legends of tomorrow. The sparse attendance and low lighting gave SugarHill the feel of a bygone speakeasy. The Colorado native was right at home in this environment, making sure to use the many jazz numbers in her catalogue to accentuate the throwback feel. Lina is at her best when she makes her voice one with the instruments. Here is when her delicate phrasing and timing becomes reminiscent of her idol Lady Day. On “Come to Mama,” those small nuances allow the songstress to invoke both schoolgirl playfulness and adult sensuality:While the base of Lina’s music is swing, her sound has evolved since 2001 to become a melting pot of Hip-Hop, opera, and disco. She covered the propulsive disco/swing rhythms of “Cherchez La Femme” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band (made famous this decade by Ghostface Killah’s remake). Her underrated jazz singing was illuminated through unique, soothing versions of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess classic “Summertime” and Lady Day’s “God Bless Child.” For her soul and Hip-Hop influences, Lina held court with improvised versions of Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It” and Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation.”Lina’s first album (Stranger on Earth) received mixed reviews due to its experimental fusion of Swing and R&B. For her follow up (The Inner Love Movement), the enchanting songbird streamlined her arrangements to fit more in line with her contemporaries. Still, her individuality shines through on the yearning ballad “Smooth” and the celebratory dance track “Feel the Love.” On the latter, Lina pontificates her desire to bring her “love movement” to each and every city in America:Eight years into her career, Lina has shown her music can be avant-garde and contemporary. With the recent release of her third album Morning Star, she has taken the best elements of the vintage arrangements of her first album and the soul sounds of her sophomore offering. And just maybe, mainstream listeners are now ready for her.