Thursday, June 11, 2009

Congo Square

Teena Marie: You Baby
Teena Marie: Lover's Lane (featuring Howard Hewett)

From Congo Square (Stax, 2009)

Already being called the Ivory Queen of Soul, Teena Marie has proven over the years to be a rewarding champion in the fields of funk, flashy R&B and mellow love ballads. Most of that is attributed to her seductive phrasing and that irresistible vibrato. With years of funk under her belt due to her relations with the late punk-funk god Rick James, Marie exploded on black radio with jolting classics like "I Need Your Lovin'," "Behind the Groove" and "Lovergirl." And before rap was even considered to be favorable on black sistahs, Marie revealed no resistance on 1981's "Square Biz."

Years later, after her Cash Money debut with La' Dona, Marie shows no sign of slowing down. Surely her vibrato is undeniably stronger and highly transparent on the slower grooves but Marie is still working her chops. On her Stax debut Congo Square, she pays homage to the heartland of jazz and blues found in New Orleans. The singer recently discovered she had family roots in New Orleans - which explains the album title's reference. Ironically, Cash Money, based in New Orleans, isn't the label offering Marie's goodwill gesture to N.O.

The album, sounds like her last two works, but she does go for more jazz, more blues, more relaxed and mature grooves. There's a great lack of the funk she's notoriously known for performing - which might be the biggest setback of the disc. Yet she replaces it with new school beats, a hefty set of guest performers (Howard Hewett, MC Lyte, Faith Evans) and some unusual mutations of funk-jazz fusion like the candy-coated title track, which features George Duke on keys.

Ready to conquer radio is "Can't Last a Day" - spinning with familiar vibes from Rose Royce's "Wishing on a Star." Equally prepared is the heartfelt ballad "Marry Me," the R&B-infectious "You Baby," and the seductive quiet storm magic of "Lover's Lane." Marie handles most of the songwriting...and she's quite good at it. But some of the production and the melodies fall flat in her attempts to sound culturally relevant in today's music standards. Her lessons in black history on "Miss Coretta," "Harlem Blues" and the Obama-supportive "Black Cool" are tucked in the back of the disc, but do nothing more than serve up album filler like the black cultural studies found on Sounds of Blackness albums. Still, Congo Square is a good disc but far from her superior workouts found on her highly-overlooked, early releases. Especially if you're a fan of the funk. - J Matt

To read album review at, click here.
For a limited time, listen to clips from Teena Marie's new album Congo Square. Click here.

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