Meshell Ndegeocello – however she has spelled her name throughout the years – has been one of the most influential bassists and composers of her age – fortunately, our age as well. Music enthusiasts were blown away by her, let it be about her sensitive and sensual singing, her energetic, yet soulful approach towards playing the bass guitar, her feel of funk, jazz, electronica or of how a properly written song should seem and sound like. Everybody raved about her production skills – it’s easy to recall the arrangements of ‘Comfort Woman’ which were cleverly constructed layers supporting her incredible voice – as well as her mind-blowing work on (primarily) the 4-string. (The song ‘If That’s Your Boyfriend [It Wasn’t Last Night]’ being the perfect example.) In 2007 she went even further: she experimented with drum and bass, mixed jazz with really aggressive rock but somehow – by staying on top of her game and presenting fans with another densely, albeit not overly egocentrically or disturbingly produced album, ‘The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams’.
Her 2010 effort ‘Devil’s Halo’ came as a surprise (fans could diplomatically call it “a secret favourite”) with its short running time and on-the-spot songs with minimal space to let off the instrumentals. The setting and the instrumentation were also trending towards intimacy rather than an emotion-fuelled outburst or straightforward declaration of oneself like the 2007 album, or many of the songs from the past.
So when word came that Meshell’s finished work on her new album titled ‘Weather’, and a song (track 8, ‘Dirty World’) was made available for download as a taster, we got the picture of an album equally in the manner and temperament of ‘Devil’s Halo’ and a blast from the past with the emphasized – flawlessly intriguing – bassline and some universal lyrics. Is this picture correct and is the album any good?
Since you probably have seen the Monthly Must header above this (and every) entry, you have guessed that the answer to the second part of the above question is a bit more than positive. Why? Because ‘Weather’ can be seen as a piece of art in multiple styles – and the key is in the title. On one hand, ‘Weather’ resonates well with the genre called quiet storm. Quiet storm is a sort of late-night radio-type of music which has airy compositions in slower tempo, and gains inspiration of jazz, rock, R&B (positively Motown, Stax or Chess, not the Beyoncé-Rihanna axis) or soul music. And we can see that certain songs – which also reach back to the moods of ‘Devil’s Halo’ – really go slow and let Meshell’s voice come in front with minimal piano and guitar accompaniment in most of such songs – such as the rather touching ‘Chelsea Hotel’, ‘Oysters’ or ‘Feeling For The Wall’. Piano parts are lush, yet effective and give a really nice atmosphere to the songs (like a synth texture would), sometimes even strings come to make the song more powerful (most notably in ‘Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear’ but also in one of the album’s high points, ‘Petite Mort’).
But why else could this album be called – in ‘the writer’s’ humble opinion – ‘Weather’. Well, weather can be really unsettled and variable. In keeping with that, on the album there are rather uptempo songs bearing a bit of rock’s harshness and dynamics, such as ‘Chances’ or ‘Dead End’.
Still, how do these diverse and varied settings, scenes and moods come together in a whole? The answer is: through Meshell Ndegeocello herself. Because – when it comes to arrangements and instruments used – her albums can be electronic, hip-hop/soul/r&b oriented or just a guitar-bass-drumset trio, her personality and outstanding musicianship shows. And give way to a truly original, unique and excited world of ideas and emotions.
Thus, ‘Weather’ is November’s Monthly Must.