Leela James is one of those singers `deserving wider recognition.` Unfortunately for the soulful songstress, `the right album' for commercial aspirations seems unlikely. For the fans's sake, maybe that is best as a `soulful,' `authentic' Leela James seems much better than a commercial `pop-tart' or a contemporary R&B singer with `no soul.' From my perspective, on her third effort (second effort of originals),My Soul, James sounds as if she has found just the right bridge between being considered too obscure and conceding too much just for commercial appeal. On 'My Soul,' there are some cuts that could have been genuine commercial hits as well as cuts fulfilling and `ode' to soul music. James balances two worlds with great relevance.
"I Ain't New To This" is a superb opener, featuring great soulful production work that samples "Solitary Love Affair" by Millie Jackson. The hook is simple and old school in conception, but captivates listener, foreshadowing what `gems' are to further captivate the listener on the album. The length may be a brief 2:30, but there is more than enough substance to alert the listener this is going to be one solid album.
"So Cold" is one of many originals written solely by James, and it does not disappoint. Here, James contrasts her overt, soul-stirring vocals from "I Ain't New To This" with softer, restrained vocals, as if to represent `the coldness' of which she sings. the production work is soulful, with full-sounding bass, lovely twinkles of piano, and tasteful use of synthesized lines. "The Fact Is" keeps up the soulful vibe established by James, only another sample `buttresses' the production work, this time a contribution from soul standouts The Moments ("Lovely Way She Loves"). James's vocals are more present and direct here, once again contrasting the previous trend. Lovely background vocals strengthen the well written refrain, with the sample being incredibly projected here.
"I Want It All" changes pace once again, providing one of the albums more satisfactory listens. Another original solely by James, James channels funk on this throwback cut which features superb, catchy songwriting. Here, James `wants': "forty acres and mule... I want to do what I choose and make my own rules..". It is by all means an A+ cut. "Party All Night," another James original, features a nice uptempo, driving groove, again providing contrast to the previous, funky cut. The vocals are overt by James, highlighting her almost anachronistic vocals. Harmonically, the track sits on the same chord, contributing to the remarkableness of the groove.
No album is complete without a great duet, and co-writers Leela James and Raheem DeVaughn accomplish this on the powerful, soulful cut "Mr. Incredible, Ms. Unforgettable." The sound achieved here is classic and Raheem DeVaughn and Leela James possess a remarkable vocal chemistry, reaching to soaring heights. The momentum rises even higher with "Tell Me You Love Me," a cut lifting "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye." This cut is clearly a neo-soul number, but it is contemporary enough to appeal to younger listeners who favor more commercially-driven cuts. "Let It Roll" is equally solid, if not more so, with soulful production that sounds indigenous to the 1970s. At only 2:44, "Let It Roll" leaves the listener yearning for more.
"Supa Luva" is lengthier than previous cuts, but length takes nothing away from the overall quality. "If It's Wrong," the penultimate cut, features nice dark-sounding production work, contrasting the bright, soulful edge of most of the other cuts. Closing cut "It's Over" may not be the best cut of My Soul, but it redirects any lost energy via "Supa Luva" or "If It's It Wrong", which is not much lost.
Essentially, 'My Soul' is a superb soul album that has unfortunately been forgot in a pack of more generic, though commercial R&B releases. It would be nice to see Ms. James get a huge lift and receive the talent she deserves, but regardless of commercial success or lack of, Leela James is one of R&B's shining stars. My Soul is the evidence.