Monday, March 7, 2011

Marsha Ambrosius is Sexy, Raw, & a Songwriting Genius in first solo effort


Review By Jeneba JJ Ghatt


Some say Marsha Ambrosius was the real talent behind the top selling British soul duo Floetry which consisted of Ambrosius as the songstress and her childhood pal Natalie Stewart as the spoken word Floecist.  For reasons neither have shared openly before, the two split ways but not before the both of them lost lots of weight, perhaps breaking under the pressure of celebrity standards or for reasons of getting healthier.  Stewart released a couple of mediocre singles and was last seen performing nude in a video for her single, Let Me.

People expected more from Ambrosius, however. She has been described as having phenomenal raw songwriting skills that rival the best in the business today.  After all, she has penned songs for the likes of Jill Scott, Michael Jackson and Alicia Keys and has performed on projects alongside Earth Wind & Fire, Patti Labelle, The Game, Justin Timberlake, Busta Rhymes and Glenn Lewis, just to name a few.

So it is with that weight and pressure for success that we found Ambrosius in DC, amidst a promotional nationwide tour crisscrossing around the country in advance of last week’s release of her much-anticipated first solo effort, Late Nights & Early Mornings.  

I was able to get a sneak peek of one of the rare occasions of Ambrosius performing solo one week prior in Los Angeles.  She performed at The Music Box, more than half way thru a 7-hour jam session that the Grammy-award winning group “The Roots” puts on each year during Grammy weekend.  Artists across various genres stop in to sing a song or two as they bounce from various industry events and parties that weekend.  When it was Ambrosius’s turn, she managed to excite and awaken a lukewarm audience of roots and culture aficionados, industry executives,  and celebrities  who were not too impressed by the commercially successful artists that performed before her.  She was very svelt, wearing hot pants and thigh high boots, a boho top, with a full hair head of curly locks, and made everyone in the room turn and ask, “THAT’s Marsha Ambrosius?”   She looked much like the Marsha that appears on the cover and CD insert to this project.  She has trimmed down to a slim and leggy seductress which is a distinct departure from her more earthy, robust look in her soul sister-girl Floetry days.

This time she was dressed in a floral top and fitted pants, and was fresh off the train or plane from her last stop on her way to the next.  Ambrosius took the stage at the U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC, acknowledging to her crowd of eager fans that her album was long time coming during the 
listening portion of the DTLR Listening Lounge event .


In between tracks, Ambrosius explained to the audience a tidbit about the making of each song and clued the audience into some background.


The listening party launched with a song co-written with a woman whom Marsha has written songs for in the past, the phenomenal Alicia Keys.  With You is a sexy, sultry and sensual jazzy tune complete with the heavy panting we’ve heard before in Say Yes, the 2002 hit song from her Floetry days.  

“If there is any chances of you getting some play, if you put this song on, you’re gonna get lucky,” she said.

Keys isn’t the only powerhouse whose presence is on the album. Marsha asked permission to remake Lauryn Hill’s Lose Myself .  “She’s a bit picky who she allows to sing her songs so I am very grateful that she let me do this song,” Ambrosius confessed.

Ambrosius’ arrangement of the song is changed enough to “make it her own” as Paula Abdul would’ve said on American Idol.  She does it justice, though at times the song appears a bit rushed. It could be that I am so used to the slower and patient treatment Hill gave in her original song that appeared on her 1998 Miseducation of Lauryn Hill CD which swept the Grammys in 1999.


Next, Ambrosius explained that she had no idea that Late Nights Early Mornings which she wrote but was produced by Rich Harrison was going to be the album title when she recorded it.


“This song had me crawling all over the floor like Prince in Darling Nikki” she said of the tune that “spoke to her in so many ways that she had to pick it to be the album title.

Just as described, the song is a slow and seductive jam that you could most definitely imagine yourself getting busy to. Its echoing bass, piano rifts and pulsating beats are indeed reminiscent of a Prince classic. The tune also gave Ambrosius a chance to show off her upper range. It is definitely a hot one to store under “sexy slow jams”list on your iPod.

I Hope She Cheats On You (With a basketball player), which has become the anthem for many a bitter women whose ex has moved on, is the first hit single off the album. The song was written about a friend who was going through a very tough break up, Ambrosius said.  It’s about those anxious and angry moments right after the breakup, she noted, and if you listen to the lyrics you’d understand why it could easily be dubbed the R&B version of Alanis Morisette’s You Ought to Know.


Ambrosius also shared the very personal circumstances that surrounded her penning the track Far Away.  She explained how she had just lost her grandmother around the same time she broke up with a long term boyfriend who ended up attempting suicide over the break up. In the song, which is the second single off the album; you could hear the pain, angst and severe emotions in every lyric of that song. Having the back-story helps listeners appreciate more the source of the lyrics and passion in it.

“The song sums up everything that was going on in my life when I wrote it,” she said.
The piano melodies mix well with the harmonic and full range of Ambrosious voice. The metallic Roger-esque breaks at the end are the perfect way to round off a very complete song that had so much going on.

Your Hands  is a plea to a lovemaking partner produced by  the Multi-Grammy Award winning songwriting and production duo Dre & Vidal, made up of Andre Harris and Vidal Davis.  Unfortunately, the song was not unique enough to keep me interested, but the next track  I Want You to Stay has a Mary J. Blige’esque vibe in it and it’s a bit more upbeat than the other songs of the album. It’s not a complex song but there are hidden surprises in the middle of it that makes it an interesting tune. Ambrosius wrote the song for Michael Jackson and was preparing to record it with him before Jackons’ untimely death and when you hear it. You could definitely imagine Michael singing it.

Sour Times is a mix-mash of beats, unexpected instruments and elements such as scratching.  It’s definitely unique and not something you hear in R&B albums, but understandably so given the song is a cover of an abstract number by UK group Portishead.  It grows on you.

Tears is an ode to Etta James in a jazzy bluesy kinda sorta way but is updated and still modern weaving in old school traditional R&B with more recent songs from the genre.  

Chasing Clouds is a typical song and nothing too spectacular but The Breakup Song is another one that many listeners, especially female fans, would more than likely resonate with as it is sung with raw commitment to the message in the song.  It is light on the instrumentals which is great because you can appreciate the timbre in Ambrosius voice and get one more taste of her amazing range before settling in to the last song, a remix of Butterflies which she had written for Michael Jackson’s 2001 Invincible  album.  Placing that song on the album gives Ambrosius one last chance to show off her diverse songwriting skills and phenomenal resume of penning charttoppers.

Overall, the album is passionate and a worthwhile, well thought out, arranged, produced and put together compilation of love songs, angst melodies and "do me" baby anthems. A great debut single effort from Ambrosius. I’d recommend the lovestruck, in love and believers in love go out and get this one!
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