I’ve been waiting to write this for a long, long time. Way back in 2002 I took the future wife to see Erykah Badu play at the Fox Theater in Oakland. We got there early so the plan was to hang out in the Fox’ plush lobby until Badu came on and enjoy some adult beverages, but then we heard some beautiful music coming from the stage – and we weren’t the only ones. Within ten minutes the lobby was empty and a transfixed crowd was swaying and sweating to the night’s opening act, Floetry. …
DJBooth Album Review
Since Marsha (we’re on a first name basis) went solo she’s taunted me with the prospect of an album review. Record deals came and went, but no album. Two gripping mixtapes dropped – Yours Sincerely stays on heavy rotation in el case de Nathan S. - but no album. Everywhere I turned she tantalized me. With all due respect to Mr. Foxx, he’s not even remotely the reason Freakin’ Me was the best song on Intuition, and just last week I was at The Roots pre-Grammy show when, you guessed it, she stepped on stage and lit the building on fire, but still no album. So excuse me if I take a moment soak in the fact that I’m finally here….
…ok, I’m done soaking. Now that I’ve had my moment, it’s time to get down to business and answer some hard questions- namely, why did it take so long for her solo debut album Late Nights & Early Mornings to drop? If we’re being really real, both physically and musically Ambrosius wasn’t on the r&b star assembly line, and so notoriously risk-adverse record execs surely doubted her marketability. Remarkably Late Nights proves that she’s, at least in part, answered those doubts without losing herself in the process. She’s certainly never looked better - check out that album cover - and lead single Hope She Cheats On You (With a Basketball Player) shows that she can write for radio, and join the long title hall of fame while she’s at it (word to current champion Re-Up Gang - We Got It 4 Cheap (Vol. 3): The Spirit of Competition). Sorry, got distracted there for a moment, back to Cheats On You. While her soul and jazz roots are evident throughout, particularly on the extended outro, the song has an easy accessibility that puts mainstream success within reach.
Impressively, beyond Cheats on You there’s very little on the album that bears any hint of compromise in the face of hit single potential – I mean, the woman does a remake of a f-ing Portishead song (Sour Times). I literally can’t think of another major label singer who would take a chance like that? The album does contain a remix of Floetry’s hit Butterflies, and more adventurous listeners could see the hit potential in the mid-tempo ballad Chasing Clouds, but it’s clear that Marsha’s primarily using Late Nights as a declaration of her allegiance to classic soul and r&b.
As we hear on the minimalist The Break-Up Song, Marsha has that rare talent to channel true emotion though her voice, but while it’s true that she can do heartbreak with the best of them, as she does on the gospel influenced Tears, if I’m being honest, it’s her baby-making music that I truly can’t get enough of. (Go ahead and judge me – I’m not apologizing for being a grown man.) Anticipation may just be an intro, but as the lead into the slowly burning With You it’s nothing short of sonic foreplay, foreplay that climaxes during With You as she embeds every breath and sigh with longing. Title track Late Nights & Early Mornings continues the trend more overtly, pounding and moaning its way through three minutes. Goddamn. Let me put it this way. An absurdly expensive day care bill is on my desk as I write this, and my first baby’s crying in the next room, and I’m seriously considering making a second. Like right now.
As you’ve probably already figured out I could go on for hours about Late Night & Early Mornings, breaking down the subtle Michael Jackson influences on I Want You to Stay or explaining the expert balance of Far Away, but I’m already running dangerously low on space for this review, so let me simply close with this: I know it’s only February, but until I hear better, Marsha Ambrosius’ debut is the r&b album of the year. I’d say I'm relieved to know it was worth the wait, but I really never had any doubts.
Listen to More: Marsha Ambrosius Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Hustlers ft. The Game & Marsha Ambrosius" (2006)
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