Selah Sue

The burgeoning career of Belgian singer/songwriter Selah Sue could be a case study for how to make it in the new millennium music industry--just as easily as it could be a classic rags to riches tale. It goes a little something like this: Introverted teenaged girl begins penning songs in her bedroom in an attempt to make sense of her angst and frustration. With nothing but an acoustic guitar and a personal computer, she begins recording these musings and sharing them with friends, establishing a modest local fanbase via Myspace. Soon, tens of views become hundreds, and hundreds become thousands, leading to a record deal and studio sessions with Meshell Ndgeocello and Cee-Lo Green and a gig opening for Prince.

For her self-titled debut, the now 23 year old songstress serves up a collection of MySpace greatest hits from her teen years, as well as new selections, recorded with  producers Farhot and Patrice. The result is an infectious introduction to a refreshingly earnest young voice. The energetic hook which explodes from the acoustic beginning of “Raggamuffin” makes it easy to understand why the folk/reggae mash up garnered over a million web views. “Fade Away” highlights a newly mature sensibility, Sue breathily vamping over a bluesy arrangement that manages to be almost as sensual as it is somber. Best of all is “Please,” on which Sue and Cee-Lo deliver a show-stopping soul duet over a moody electronic track. The result is at once retro and futuristic, something like what might happen if a young Al Green teleported into a studio with Massive Attack.

While Selah Sue establishes its namesake as a voice to watch, it is hard not to come away with the feeling that the voice hasn’t quite come into its own yet, literally or stylistically. The stellar boardwork of Farhot and Patrice provide a sonic richness that many of Sue’s Myspace hits lacked, but her sometimes tentative vocals are occasionally overshadowed by it, as on the busy “Crazy Sufferin’ Style.” Meanwhile,  several selections like “Peace of Mind” and “Fyah Fyah” feel like outtakes from Nneka’s more assured Soul Is Heavy, also produced largely by Farhot.

Still, Selah Sue has delivered a strong debut, that will undoubtedly expand her constantly growing fan base even further, due first and foremost to the soulfulness and honesty that her writing and singing convey. It’s hard not to listen the confessional lyrics and emotive delivery of the guitar ballad, “Break” and not get the feeling that this collection is just the first chapter for an artist who is well on her way to crafting a first rate novel.

-Jeff Harvey