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Review: Marisa Lindsay's “Muddy Water”


 

Monday, May 21, 2007.

 

 

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

  

 

From the moment I heard the opening track, “What A Difference,” I knew this was something different. I was not instantly in love with it although I was instantly attracted to it.

 

Marisa’s sound is not soft and fuzzy or overtly sexy or high and pretty, or any of the usual suspects of sound favored by this, and last season’s crop of twenty-something songbirds. The number of young, Black women with CDs who are trying to make it as vocalists is seemingly endless—and all of them are trying to distinguish themselves among their peers. What’s a girl to do?

In addition to looking attractive, a good number of them can actually sing. Yet the question remains, who stands out and why? Marisa Lindsay has my vote as a voice to watch and not simply a body to gaze at. Some reviewers are referencing Erykah Badu. That’s understandable given Marisa’s keen-edged nasal tone.

 

It is similar to Ms. Badu, but its origin is the tonal preference of West African female singers, especially those out of Mali and Senegal. Within the Black music vocal tradition on the contemporary tip we could go backwards from Badu to Esther Phillips to Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. So in one sense Marisa’s sound is nothing new, but in another sense it’s both traditional and a bit left of today’s norm.

Marisa Lindsay is
Barbados born, so rather than over-relying on gospel influences, she adds Caribbean
and Brazilian elements to her contemporary jazz-based approach. The result is both familiar and simultaneously unexpected. I know that it is her jazz knowledge that attracted me to listen in the first place, but it is her updating of the tradition that keeps me listening.
 
Lindsay’s musical pedigree is obvious once you check the repertoire on
Submit2Love, her debut release: 11 cuts—6 jazz standards, 1 reggae classic, 1 blues classic and only 3 originals. The jazz standards come straight out of Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday, both of whom were singers with that distinctive bittersweet voice.

I was surprised to hear a young singer tackling materials that were more than half a century old. Even more surprising is the fact that this is not a retro-affair. Marisa is not trying to recreate the past. Just like the beboppers flipped swing music or how Coltrane and Pharaoh added
Third World influences to bebop, Marisa is moving forward as she simultaneously reaches back. Every song is given a new flavor through a thorough make over. Some I like more than others, but I’m impressed by the direction as a whole.

Moreover, it’s not just the material. Marisa is actually a jazz stylist. Although her Esther Phillips-like R&B influences are obvious, Marisa sings intervals rather than glissandos and melissmas. Instead of just sliding from note to note, or using those churchy worrying-the-note inflections, Ms Lindsay actually hits individual notes in staccato succession as she climbs up or down a scale.

I’ve included a lush original, “Submit2Love,” that has quiet storm format written all over it. Even on this contemporary-sounding cut, the jazz elements are obvious in the harmonies. What Marisa does with Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain” is radical—the most radical interpretation I’ve heard. Be sure to check the Wes Montgomery-like guitar chording in the background and the foregrounding of the background singers with Marisa’s lead voice shadowed by a vocoder.
 
Marisa’s range is not as wide as some of her peers, but her musicianship out shines most. She actually improvises rather than rely on power and melodramatic theatrics to get your attention. Also, she is comfortable in different keys, thereby giving tonal color to her distinctive voice. Listen to the lower-pitched “You Don’t Know What Love Is” for example and contrast that interpretation with the featured track, “Muddy Water.” The former has a Brazilian-rhythm flavor, the latter is a hard R&B interpretation of a blues standard.

“Muddy Water” was the biggest surprise for me. Few contemporary singers are using traditional blues songs. Marisa grabs hold of “Muddy Water” and shines as though this was 1958 and she was auditioning for Atlantic records.

 

Marisa Lindsay offers an excellent contemporary debut whose strength is in distinctive interpretations of classic material. I’m impressed by the sound of Marisa Lindsay: her vocal style, her choice of material, and her arrangements. I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be the rise of an original voice in the continuum of Black vocal music.

 

 

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 

 

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