Sabucedo Records [Release date 18.09.20]
If Toronto has provided a creative backdrop to the recent renewed interest in all aspect of soul, Sandra Bouza takes things a step further with a cross genre, radio friendly album that is refreshingly lyrically driven.
She never wastes a word or phrase, as she strikes the perfect balance with her band to hover over quasi grooves and intricate funky lines and bring her narratives to life.
‘Falling Away From Me’ is a contemporary soulful r&b album with confessional style well-crafted songs, boosted by interesting arrangements that are sequenced into a cohesive whole.
She dives into relationship stories and draws on a mix of funk, soul and contemporary r&b to inject her songs with subtle phrasing that uncovers heartfelt moments.
The album title provides a strand of conceptual continuity, or perhaps a thematic linkage. The lead single ‘Almost Love’ for example, is about an unworkable relationship encapsulated in the simple but effective line: “It was almost but not quite love.”
Her insightful and evocative lyrics are delivered with restless r&b phrasing and a funky undertow.
It’s a lyrically strong self-empowerment song, on which her vocal cleverly evokes her emotional commitment with an uplifting musical accompaniment that suggests she’s emboldened by the experience.
This also true of the electro-tinged ‘Stone Junction’, which delivers the explanatory line: “I will never break your heart, ‘cos if I did, I know I’d be breaking mine.”
The beautifully paced sludgy dirge of ‘East Side Woman’, is another album highlight, which finds the narrator playing coy about a same gender relationship, while the more conventionally catchy funky pop song ‘Human Affection’ finds a middle ground somewhere between the contrasting songs above.
She sings about life experience real or those imagined, and has the confidence and inner voice to bring them to her public’s attention.
On ‘Wrong Songs’ she sings; “Maybe I’m destined for greatness, but I’m not destined for you.”
She further neatly summarises her style thus: “I don’t sing love songs; I sing my heart’s history.”
It’s the kind of line that would surely get an admiring glance from Joni Mitchell.
For a singer-songwriter driven album this is a very commercial record, as she fuses a funky lightness of touch with gospel edges, jazz textures and a consistent vocal style that will connect her to the contemporary pop market.
The sultry opening single ‘Almost Love’ is a clever exposition of her musical style, as her effortless vocal teases out every lyrical meaning. She extends this on the gentle intro and contrasting impassioned vocal attack at the heart of the soulful ballad ‘Losing You’. She positively revels in the task of finding the right pitch and tone to bring out the best of the lyrics.
The net result is a real inter-generational crossover appeal, that spans modern r&b and soul right across to old school Janis Joplin fans, who always search for emotional intensity.
There’s a neat quiet-to-loud dynamic on the stop-time funk of ‘Not Like Me’, with a sudden sweep into a choral wall of sound and an insistently repeated chorus.
The arrangement focuses on the backbone of the song in the manner of old Motown numbers which always emphasized the hook.
Things become more dance floor friendly on the understated funk of ‘Turn It Up’, the bridge of which provides welcome contrast.
Ultimately, it’s the attention to detail – from the meticulous production by sometime co-writer Hill Kourkoutis, to her band’s accompaniment and her own breathless phrasing and an ability to flutter on a vowel to great effect – that makes this album more interesting than simply the mainstream.
If ‘Almost Love’ alone, brings her commercial success, it will be a deserved breakthrough for a modern soulful songwriter with a lyrical bent to match. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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