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LEELA JAMES: LET'S DO IT AGAIN
Like me you probably don’t do covers albums. But a covers album that includes versions of Angela Bofill’s ‘I Try’, Bootsy’s ‘Id Rather Be With You’ and Phyllis Hyman’s ‘You Know How To Love Me’? Sure that’s a little more interesting … none of those songs could be considered ‘standards’. What’s more Leela’s 1st album despite heavyweight contributions from the likes of Kanye West, James Poyser, Raphael Saadiq & Wyclef was a slick affair surprisingly found wanting in the song department (only saved by two cuts, the brilliant Avila Bros production ‘Music’ & ‘Mistreating Me’), so to hear Ms.James tackle an albums worth of proven compositions might be what we’ve all have been waiting for. ‘Let’s Do It Again’ begins pleasantly with a faithful, jaunty rendition of Betty Wright’s ‘Clean Up Woman’, reassuringly the whole record is performed live by musicians who know their way around a soul song, so it becomes clear early that it will be the arrangements and Leela’s performance that come under the spotlight (the record produced by James herself with the assistance of Ralph Kearns).

Track 2 continues into ‘Miss You’ a nice enough Rolling Stones cover that maybe doesn’t work quite as well as DJ Rogers Jr’s version. Up next is ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ a song, admittedly, I never liked beyond first hearing James Brown’s original anyway (after the 1st chorus we all know the punchline). By Womack & Womack’s ‘Baby I’m Scared Of You’ it all starts to feel tentative like a pre-show soundcheck to an empty room.

That is until the interpretation of the Foreigner hit ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ changes everything... Suddenly you’re in Memphis in August, you the listener. Its dusk, a Soul band is playing in an old abandoned movie theatre and you’re sat outside on the front steps within earshot contemplating your next move, you still have a heartbreak fresh in the psyche, broken by someone special that everyone could tell didn’t feel the same way about you. Now you’re back in the room and you know what love is … but it doesn’t mean the song hasn’t just vividly taken you back to a time when you hadn’t worked it out. This is the best kind of black music, American Soul music and Producer/Soul singer Leela James has pulled it off. On the verse she has a male lead (Linwood Smith) shadow her every utterance like emotional baggage. Leela bravely leads her sistas to the chorus, where she softens the words “love is” –a moment of vulnerability. This could be an answer record to Percy Sledge’s ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ by a woman who’s been there - suspicious that Percy is just another player. The song builds and builds to a point where “solid as a rock” she could be singing about the main bloke in her life, God, with everything she’s just been through she probably is.

7 minutes later the sloppiest, funkiest version of Jimmie Cox’s ‘Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out’ breaks you out of the trance, better than Bobby Womack’s version who’s string drenched production sat uneasily with the lyric, Leela takes it to the Camden gutter like she’s Winehouse (5 years ago I’d have described her vocal as like Esther Phillips). Now the organic sound of the album all makes sense, the sultry take on Al Green’s ‘Simply Beautiful’ providing the final flourish. You can even return to the first 4 songs again – somehow they sound different now. In fact where did I keep her first CD again? 8.

  
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