Wednesday 8 May 2013

'Lady' by Lady [Album Review]

2013, Truth & Soul Records

There’s something about the underdog that we just love.  The notion of the little guy winning is something we can all get behind in any story, and it’s certainly no different within the music industry either.  Following on from the excellent Lee Fields & The Expressions release in 2012, ‘Faithful Man’, Truth & Soul Records have struck Gold with their latest find – the transatlantic pairing of US R&B singer, Nicole Wray, and south London’s very own, Terri Walker.

Already having created such a buzz in 2013, garnering widespread reviews in UK press (including London’s ‘ShortList’), BBC Radio airplay, and certainly having become a staple within the playlist of The Blue-in-Green Sessions, I’m still left scratching my head as to how this whole thing even came about!?

Many may remember Nicole Wray from her mid-90s affiliation with Missy Elliot and Timbaland, having signed to the former’s record label, The Goldmind, releasing her debut album ‘Make It Hot’ in 1998.  Even though the album achieved moderate success, unfortunately Wray’s time since has involved varying labels deals (one of which with Roc-A-Fella Records) and shelved albums along the way.  Although, there is a hefty dose of Wray material to be found including her contributions to Dame Dash’s Blackroc project, Kid Cudi’s ‘The End’ and the aforementioned album by Lee Fields & The Expressions, ‘Faithful Man’ where Wray assumes a decent chunk of backing vocal duties.

Terri Walker, on the other hand, introduced herself to the world in 2003, via her debut album ‘Untitled’ released through Def Jam UK.  The album was met with critical acclaim and even saw Walker nominated for 2003’s Mercury Music Prize.  Two further albums followed, including separate label deals, one of which, coincidentally affiliated with Roc-A-Fella Records’ Dame Dash (who also served as the man who signed Wray), along with consistent behind-the-scenes efforts for Jennifer Hudson and Fergie.

Here’s the part where I have to apologise as I have no explanation as to how each vastly underrated talent took the huge leap from solo record label limbo to becoming a combined effort, housed on Truth & Soul Records no less, and paired with a completely new sound to anything either has adopted before.  There’s so much about this project that’s almost shrouded in mystique – aside from the question ‘how did it all come together?’, the group name is equally intriguing: Lady.  It’s definitely a strange name for a two-girl group and definitely not Google search friendly either [No, Lady Gaga, I wasn’t looking for you].  Finally, the fact that, I’ll make no bones about it, each is an incredibly beautiful woman, so why the album cover simply features the word ‘Lady’ (also the album title) and the back features a heavily pixelated image of the two women, again, I find slightly strange.  I don’t intend to subscribe to the ‘s#x sells’ theory, and, in truth, I like the notion of ‘letting the music speak for itself’ that’s potentially being adopted, and I’m completely fascinated by it all.

Early reviews have unanimously compared the album to early Motown recordings, and, armed with musicians including the incredible Thomas Brenneck and Dave Guy, it’s a predictable comparison, but where it holds even more true than each of their previously affiliated artists (including Sharon Jones, Lee Fields and Charles Bradley) is in their youth.  The incomparable Motown stars, and their subsequent hits, were still mostly more than ten years younger than Wray and Walker are now, but in Lady’s music, we’re presented with classic soul-styled musicianship that we’ve come to hold dear from labels like Daptone and Truth & Soul.  Now though, we have this wonderful package presented to us with a new energy, perspective and generation.

The record is every bit as good as it’s been touted to be, and I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we hear from Lady or indeed Wray and Walker as solo acts either.

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