Soul Sistah: In this business, it's often all about who you're compared to. Before hearing a note of diva-in-waiting Martha Redbone's stunning self-made disc, Home of the Brave, we were inundated with stylistic points of reference. "She's kinda like an earthbound Macy Gray, " one pundit said, while another favorably compared her to India.Arie.
The bottom line? Redbone doesn't sound even a little like either artist. She sounds like herself; an R&B singer/tunesmith with an undeniable affection and affinity for classic soul sounds. She also has a remarkable flair for crafting pleasantly sticky, completely original jams. It's a rare treat to encounter an artist so confident in her vision and not susceptible to the narrowcasting ways of Svengali producers or the A & R execs who hire them. In short, Martha Redbone is an artist in the truest sense of the word.
"I don't mind comparisons, because I believe that we're all working toward the same thing," Redbone says. "It's nice to be singled out, of course. But, in the end, we are all trying to put the melody back into soul music. That's a movement that needs every possible voice and songwriter. I'm proud to be part of that."
Home of the Brave is more than merely another "neo-soul" recording, though. It's a sharply drawn, wonderfully human collection of material. Redbone doesn't assume an overly arty pose. Instead, she seems to revel in playing the everywoman, rendering each song emotionally accessible and believable. It's easy to embrace them, because the listener can interpret every word as truth.
"I use my songs as a form of therapy," she says. "My songs come from different things or moments in time. I'll hear a phrase or a funny line that sticks in my mind; from there it will lead into a story based on experiences I've had or those of other people in my life."
Do her friends mind hearing their personal lives unfold in Redbone's music? "Not at all," she says with a smile. "They love hearing themselves in my music. It makes them feel like they're part of something very important to me."
And Home of the Brave is exactly that. Described by the New York-based artist as her life's blood, the set unfolds like a live gig, as she vamps, purrs, and belts amid a series of tightly woven arrangements that contrast raw soul with pop gloss.
Throughout the recording-which she produced with longtime collaborator Aaron Whitby-Redbone is supported by such cream-of-the-crop musicians as Alan "AB" Burroughs (who has played with Miles Davis) and Jonathan Maron (Maxwell), among others. Since it started circulating roughly two months ago, an ardent fan base has begun to form.
"There's a real vibe happening around this record," Redbone says, "People keep coming back to the gigs. That's the best evidence that we might be onto something good."
Indeed. Fans are tapping into such tasty bits as the strummy, rock-etched "Liar," the retro-funk-flavored "Vineyard," and the cheeky, pop-splashed "Boyfriend," on which the artist tells the tale of a woman who discovers her man's bisexual tendencies. The centerpiece tune, however, in "Underdog," a gentle R&B/pop hybrid on which she builds from ain't-the-world-tough verses into a chorus that bursts with anthemic energy. It's the kind of song on which multi-platinum careers are built.
"That song is so true to my heart," she says. "It encompasses all that I am. It's honest to the bone. I am the underdog. That can be a difficult way of life, but it makes you stronger. If you can keep from getting bitter, it can make success all the sweeter." With that, there's nothing more to say, other than it's time for a smart major-label exec to snap Redbone up and leave the comparisons to the wanna-bes. This woman is a true original; the kind of artist who sets trends, as opposed to following them.
For more information about Martha Redbone, visit her web site at www.martharedbone.com
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