AYO / “Thank You”
Some artists wear their personal emotions on their sleeves. This girl takes her shirt off. She has tattooed her body with songs. Every word is her. Her music is her body. For Ayo, life and art are one.
This is her second album. It has all the strengths and weaknesses of sophomore efforts. You immediately recognize that it is Ayo even in it's weaker moments.
I’ve been following her work, marveling at the power of her emotional outpourings, wincing in recognizing the personal pain fueling some of those flights.
Ayo is truly naïve. She hides nothing. Dresses nothing—indeed, her songs are a state of emotional undress. She stands in her nakedness. At times it’s embarrassing—fascinating, surely, but nonetheless, embarrassing. How does one respond to a song like "Mother"? A song which instructs her mother to “love me from a distance.”
Then there is the self-criticism of “Slow Slow (Run Run).” The song opens with a painfully insightful declaration: “what have I become /is that really me/look what I have done/this is not who I want to be.” Are these really the words of a young woman on the verve of stardom?
And that’s the beauty of Ayo’s music. She is a diagnostic expert. A coroner performing an exacting autopsy. Gravity At Last is a musical postmortem. And as fascinating as the insights and discoveries are; watching the process is often not a pretty sight.
When the album works, it’s resplendent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. At least half the songs need more development. Musically—the shape of the melodies, the arrangements, the harmonic changes—too often the songs are rudimentary.
Perhaps Ayo doesn’t currently possess the musical chops to make the songs deeper. Perhaps in some cases the deficiencies are due to the language barrier. Ayo’s English is limited and that limitation is deadly for a songwriter who focuses on intimacy and personal honesty.
I also have the impression that the album was rushed. Not the actual recording, which took only five days and was recorded in a live format—the sound of it works. What I mean is the arrangements don’t have the flow that comes from having worked the song for a while before recording it. Jazz musicians can do one-offs, just instantly respond in an expert way to previously unheard material but in popular music where the premium is not on improvisation, there needs to be an element of surety.
Like I said, when it works, Gravity At Last really works. The album has 13 tracks; I’ve chosen five of my favorites. “Sometimes”“Thank You” featuring the backing voice of Jerry Lawson (lead vocalist with The Persuasions) that most fulfills the promise of this release.
“Thank You” sounds like a hard-won Sunday morning prayer, a Sunday dawning following a tough Saturday night tussling with the devil. Ayo didn’t grow up in the black church but this has the authentic sound of a moment in a Memphis church.
Thank you Ayo for sharing.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Monday, November 10th, 2008 at 1:13 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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