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A Change Is Gonna Come

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Album Review

"Music," the first song and lead single from Leela James' first album, bemoans the death of music. She reminisces about Aretha, Gladys, Tina, and Chaka, and asks, "Can we just put the thongs away?" Her argument is flawed and tired. All four inspirations released new material during the early 2000s, and James is the latest in an extended line of artists, stretching from American Idol to any anonymous keyboard lounge on the East Coast, claiming to rescue real music. James should turn off BET and go to a record store: issue solved. The remainder of A Change Is Gonna Come — named after the Sam Cooke song, covered here — isn't nearly as nauseating, thankfully enough, even if it retains a nostalgic tint. James has the stature of a woman who should possess a squeaky voice, but she sings with demonstrative grit. More importantly, she doesn't see her inspirations merely as artists to mimic; she sees how they learned from the past and applied it to the present. The past is built upon (if only a little), rather than simply revisited. Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, Chucky Thompson, and James Poyser are in on the action, giving James the kind of apt support she could've only imagined prior to recording the album. There's plenty of thematic range, whether there are blue lights in the basement, tears on the pillow, sweat on the dancefloor, or sun showers on the porch. Hopefully listeners won't hear all those names during "Music" and get the idea to listen to Lady Soul or Ask Rufus instead.

Customer Reviews

A Change Is Gonna Come

Review: A CHANGE IS GONNA COME Leela James Warner Bros. Records, June-06 Once in a while something happens. Once in a blue moon unheralded it seems to come out of nowhere and everywhere on its own. When you least expect it, there it is. Every now and then a singer appears on the scene with an unmistakable whiff of genius, a voice that stops time, and an innate sense of the living moment. Leesa James is such a one. Often compared to deep soul ancestors Aretha, Gladys, Donnie Hathaway, Tina, Al Green to whom she pays humble homage, she is yes, all that and more. Like those mighty sisters, she takes desire and sex, the undisputed truth, the black church, plus a heightened sensitivity to the power of a transcendent groove. She then combines these things with world weary joy, celebratory despair, and a longing, yes such longing for a more perfect self, a healed world, a way to make it through the dark night. Idealized arrangements and immaculate production, by a stellar team including no less than Wyclif Jean, Kanye West, and Raphael Saddiq are tailored to her gifts like a silk Versace. She serves us like any great chef, forkful by spoonful. A Change Is Gonna Come, the Sam Cooke anthem is a plea for hope in a hostile and hopeless world. Ms. James is praying also, but for nothing less than a testimony from God. It becomes a hard edged challenge to the powers saying we shall go this far and no farther. I’ve Been Changed and Long Time Coming, are two thematic riffs on the title masterpiece. Combined, they express a spiritual range that honors tradition and at the same time re-invents it. Rain, a jewel of a song, sings of the complexities of bad relationships and bad weather. Some ears will likely be put of by the purposely off-kilter mix in Rain and also in Soul Food. It is a bold spice to add to this gumbo, but the under beat, the back-beat is always as steady as a church handclap. This a-rhythmic device adds freshness and a right-on-time-ness that dates it securely in the twenty-first century present. Music, is an open fan letter to earlier gurus. It evokes the spirit of soul, and names the names, while lamenting the passing of remembered better days when bling-bling and sexual greed did not rule. Ghetto and Good Time, are masterful dance grooves designed to tear up the floor then work their way up the walls and beyond. Do this for yourself today. Listen to this music. It is important to understand that Leela James has come into the world, and judging from the agelessness of her trumpet voice, she is planning to stay a while. Lucky planet. When time has passed, and the comparisons with founding mothers have faded like last years PR, then, I suspect we will better understand what this young woman is saying.

A Force Of Nature

The All Music Guide review made good points with one glaring misstep: "Music" is not a tired aurgument. In fact, it's not tired enough. As long as Ashanti has the SoundScans she has (or "had"), this aurgument will continue for the rest of time. Enough of the message board-type rant, back to the review. Leela James is what R&B needs. No, not a return to "the good ol' days" but a retelling if you will. Hell, just sing the song, do it with some conviction and talent and we'll love you. She does that and more. She slows down No Doubts "Don't Speak" and masterfully handles it. Effortless, like blowing through a straw, her voice moves you. Not much vocal gymnastics (thankfully), just soul, straight, no chaser.

Sweetness at all levels

Wow! What a sound. I have to admit that I may be a bit different than most of these reviewers - a 45 yr old white guy from San Diego but I gotta tell ya - this girl grabbed me by surprise with a brand new take on old-school charm. I can tell that she loves what she does - it really shows. I was going to just buy a few tracks but instead downloaded her whole album. She (and her band) has a wonderful presence. Restrained, sexy, soulful, authentic and very stylish. Hey Leela, if you're reading this - thank you - I'm look forward to your future as an icon!


Born: June 2, 1983 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Like almost all other musicians hit with the neo-soul tag, the primary inspirations of Leela James -- a gritty-voiced singer and songwriter born in Los Angeles, California -- dated no later than the late '70s; Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Tina Turner were regularly cited. Her debut album, very much a throwback affair, involved assistance from a range of noted studio rats from the fields of rap and R&B, including Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, James Poyser, Chucky Thompson, and Wyclef Jean. The album,...
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A Change Is Gonna Come, Leela James
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