MARISA LINDSAY / “Muddy Water”
Source: Submit2Love (Thunder Dome – 2006)
From the moment I heard the opening track, “What A Difference,” I knew this was something different. I was not instantly in love with it even though I was instantly attracted to it. Marisa’s sound is not soft and fuzzy or overtly sexy or high and pretty, or any of the usual suspects of sound favored by this (and last) season’s crop of twenty-something songbirds. The number of young, Black women with CDs who are trying to make it as vocalists is seemingly endless—and all of them are trying to distinguish themselves among their peers. What’s a girl to do?
In addition to looking attractive, a good number of them can actually sing. Yet the question remains, who stands out and why? Marisa Lindsay has my vote as a voice to watch (and not simply a body to gaze at). Some reviewers are referencing Erykah Badu. That’s understandable given Marisa’s keen-edged nasal tone. It is similar to Ms. Badu, but it’s origin is the tonal preference of West African female singers, especially those out of Mali and Senegal. Within the Black music vocal tradition on the contemporary tip we could go backwards from Badu to Esther Phillips to Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. So in one sense Marisa’s sound is nothing new, but in another sense it’s both traditional and a bit left of today’s norm.
Marisa Lindsay is Barbados born, so rather than over-relying on gospel influences, she adds Caribbean and Brazilian elements to her contemporary jazz-based approach. The result is both familiar and simultaneously unexpected. I know that it is her jazz groundation that attracted me to listen in the first place, but it is her updating of the tradition that keeps me listening.
Lindsay’s musical pedigree is obvious once you check the repertoire on Submit2Love, her debut release: 11 cuts—6 jazz standards, 1 reggae classic, 1 blues classic and only 3 originals. The jazz standards come straight out of Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday, both of whom were singers with that distinctive bittersweet voice.
I was surprised to hear a young singer tackling fifty-year-old (and older) material. Even more surprising is the fact that this is not a retro-affair. Marisa is not trying to recreate the past. Just like the beboppers flipped swing music or how Trane and Pharoah added Third World influences to bebop, Marisa is moving forward as she simultaneously reaches back. Every song is given a new flavor through a thorough make over. Some I like more than others, but I’m impressed by the direction as a whole.
Moreover, it’s not just the material. Marisa is actually a jazz stylist. Although her Esther Phillips-like R&B influences are obvious, Marisa sings intervals rather than glissandos and melissmas. Instead of just sliding from note to note, or using those churchy worrying-the-note inflections, Ms. Lindsay actually hits individual notes in staccato succession as she climbs up or down a scale.
I’ve included a lush original, “Submit2Love,” that has quiet storm format written all over it. Even on this contemporary-sounding cut, the jazz elements are obvious in the harmonies. What Marisa does with Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain” is radical—the most radical interpretation I’ve heard. Be sure to check the Wes Montgomery-like guitar chording in the background and the foregrounding of the background singers with Marisa’s lead voice shadowed by a vocoder.
Marisa’s range is not as wide as some of her peers, but her musicianship out shines most. She actually improvises rather than rely on power and melodramatic theatrics to get your attention. Also, she is comfortable in different keys, thereby giving tonal color to her distinctive voice. Listen to the lower-pitched “You Don’t Know What Love Is” for example and contrast that interpretation with the featured track, “Muddy Water.” The former has a Brazilian-rhythm flavor, the latter is a hard R&B interpretation of a blues standard.
“Muddy Water” was the biggest surprise for me. Few contemporary singers are using traditional blues songs. Marisa grabs hold of “Muddy Water” and shines as though this was 1958 and she was auditioning for Atlantic records.
Marisa Lindsay offers an excellent contemporary debut whose strength is in distinctive interpretations of classic material. I’m impressed by the sound of Marisa Lindsay: her vocal style, her choice of material, and her arrangements. I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be the rise of an original voice in the continuum of Black vocal music.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Kind of a trip
Kalamu’s right about Marisa’s vocal ability. What she lacks in pure power or range, she more than makes up for in technique. (As opposed to just getting in the booth and wailing her lungs out.) Out of this batch, the songs I like best are the ones with more of a swing or jazzy feel. (I’m thinking of "You Don’t Know What Love Is" and "Submit2Love.") On some of the other tunes, Marisa locks into that contemporary-sounding squarish 4/4 thing and I can’t help losing interest.
Now "Waiting In Vain." That’s kind of a trip. This is the song where the Erykah thing shows up strongest. If Kalamu had posted this and said it was Badu covering Bob, I think I would’ve believed it! I’m digging that one a lot.
It occurs to me that although we’ve never done one post where we collected covers of "Waiting In Vain," that tune keeps showing up, don’t it? (I know for sure we’ve already posted versions from Annie Lennox and Gilberto Gil, and I feel like there are one or two others that I’m forgetting.)
Oh, and Marisa’s "Lover Man" is pretty good too. The only problem there is Joy Denalane already re-did that one (as posted by Kalamu in June of ’05) and Joy used a similarly updated arrangement. I have to give the edge to Joy on that one.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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