I’ve often felt I was born in the wrong time and place. For years my romantic, idealistic younger self was convinced that I was meant to be born in a time when American soul music was at its height. When artists were artists and their work was political and beautiful; powerful and soothing. When love was real and change was possible.
It’s a rare occasion that I hear music that takes me “back” to this imagined past life but Joy Denalane’s latest album Maureen does just that. Hearing those first few strings on the opening track “No More” was like a homecoming. I had never heard of this German singer before, and yet her music felt familiar.
Music lovers on this side of the Atlantic may be familiar with Denalane’s single “Change” featuring Lupe Fiasco from her previous English album. On Maureen, another respected American artist, Bilal, shows up on “Should Have Never,” over a beat that’s just as fit for some good old rap music as it is for the soulful pieces Denalane offers. “Steppin’ up” is a fun exception – a funky reminder of those classic songs that draw wallflowers onto the dancefloor.
Maureen is a mature album for mature tastes, with live elements and lyrics that traverse the landscape of human experience. The main drawback of Maureen is that for much of the album, it feels like Denalane could have gone deeper vocally. Her voice sometimes feels restricted–as if she’s holding back, or a bit uncomfortable where she’s at. Because it’s when she goes deep–and drops her voice into that spot where the notes flow easily – that the listener is wholly transported. The present melts into the past and you are officially caught up. It’s these moments that truly showcase the extent of Denalane’s talent–and bring me home again.
- Alison Isaac