|"Sapphire": Teena Marie
By Mike Heyliger
Since her career began in the late Seventies,
Teena Marie has not only cultivated a career
as one of the most fearless artists of her time,
but her albums have been a model of
consistency. Lady T was not only one of the
first female singer / songwriter /producer
/ musicians in soul music, but she's effortlessly
melded genres from Latin to rock to hip-hop
to funk over the course of the past three decades. She's also in
possession of one of the most poetic pens and beautiful voices
She'd spent a good chunk of years touring as an oldies act, so it
came as something of a shocker when 2004's "La Dona", her first
album in a decade, debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard chart and
sold just under 500,000 copies. Teena was definitely missed by her
legion of fans, who were thirsty for some water in the desert of
overprocessed, untalented divas who were babies back in the days
of "Portuguese Love" and "Deja Vu (I've Been Here Before)".
"Sapphire", Teena's thirteenth studio album, doesn't pretend to
reinvent the wheel. Teena's beyond copping to trends. Instead, the
album gives you just the same that Teena's been giving you all this
time. It's a collection of deliciously worded and awesomely funky
jams, topped off by some scintillating ballads that manage to be
contemporary and classic at the same time.
By now, you've definitely heard the seductive mid-tempo first single
"Ooh Wee", but there's much more where that came from. "Love is a
Gangsta" finds Teena weaving metaphors above a groove that
sounds just like the 70's soul jams Dr. Dre sampled for "The Chronic".
"Baby Who's Is It?" is a playful romantic jam which features a quick
interlude by former Dre associate Kurupt. Meanwhile, the
finger-snapping "A.P.B." opens the door to what really makes this
album special-the ballads.
Reminding everyone that she was originally a Motown artist-this
album's first two tracks, "God Has Created" and "Cruise Control",
feature vocals from the incomparable Smokey Robinson. Although
Smoke is beyond retirement age, his boyish tenor still provides
tingles whenever it caresses a mic. He's a treat on an album
thankfully boasting only a select few guest appearances. "Romantica"
is one of the album's showstoppers-a track that combines Spanish
guitar, jazzy textures and just a hint of electronica into a seductive
triumph. She follows that up with quintessential slow jams such as
"Ecstacy" and "Resilient (Sapphire)".
Since the days of performing with her late mentor Rick James
(immortalized in poetry in the CD's booklet), Teena Marie has rarely if
ever let her audience down, and "Sapphire" is no different. This
album proves that Lady T's got the talent to back up nearly thirty
years of consistent hit-making.
Check out Lady T's website at: www.teenamarie.com