LEELA JAMES / “Leela James Mixtape”

leela james 05.jpg Leela James is a reincarnated soul from another time. Erykah may be an analog girl in a digital world—but Leela sings like she don’t even much need electricity. She don’t believe in leftovers or holding back. On every song she’s going for the jugular—sort of reminds me of Walter Mosley’s great character “Mouse” in Devil In A Blue Dress, don’t leave nothing or nobody with her if you don’t want them killed, ‘cause she don’t take no prisoners. She sounds and looks like one of them women many men desire to get with but don’t no man particularly want to mess with. Don’t look like she put up with nothing less that 100% of whatever you working with, be demanding all you got. Which is not to say she is hard. Rather she is fierce. And the way she bear down, well let’s see the last woman who sung like that on a regular is Etta James—Chaka could hit it off and on, but if you talking about always getting down… you know I’m just noticing that Leela and Etta got the same last name, and they both got them negroidal first names. Ain’t no mistaking them for offspring of the suburbs. Both of them women hailing out of Los Angeles. I’m supposed to be writing about the music.

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leela james 06.jpg Leela came on the scene sporting an afro that made Angela Davis look like a bald head. Move over Erykah, a real head of hair is coming through. For the first album her hair was cinnamon-colored and a couple of miles wild, I mean "wide," wild and wide. I know it made me smile. Now for her second album she spent about a week in the beauty parlor trying to straighten out her stuff. leela james 10.jpg Needless to say, hair is a major issue among black folk, especially black womenfolk up in America. Any yall seen Michelle and Barack’s wedding picture? I don’t believe that hair has anything to do with how one sings but I do believe how one decides to deal with one’s hair has a lot to do with how one approaches the music. Hair. Music. Two major parts of culture. I’m supposed to be writing about the music.
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leela james 08.jpg Leela has an EP that’s hard to find. It’s called Live in New Orleans. I took “Long time Coming” and “A Change Is Going To Come” from that recording. They are the first and last tracks on the mixtape. Studio versions of both of these tracks are on Leela’s debut album, A Change Is Going To Come. Leela’s new album, Let’s Do It Again, was released March 2009 and is an album of covers of Soul music, mosty from the seventies. The bulk of the tracks on the mixtape are from Let’s Do It Again. A couple of reviewers have expressed some concern and/or disappointment that the new album is composed entirely of old music. It don’t bother me. In fact, I like the new album of old music better than the old album of new music. I especially like that she does it using a band rather than computers. And I double-especial like the drummer. This cat is a first-class drummer. Listen to his pick-ups, the little figures he uses to kick-off each song. Listen to his bass drum work. Watch how he does his fills at the ends of phrases. Back in another life about forty years ago, I used to drum in a Soul band. I know a little bit about sticks and skins. To be clear, the whole damn band is on the one—I’m just recognizing something you don’t hardly hear on records nowadays: a real drummer. There are also some very nice and very subtle touches in the arrangements. Big ups for bringing the noise on the real side. People be talking old school this and that, and talking about going back or bringing back the old sound but most of them be sampling and trying to imitate. Leela is on a whole other level. She be doing it live in real time. The two cuts from her debut album, “Music” and “Interlude,”are originals that sound like some stuff she found in a time capsule.
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leela james 16.jpg I do believe there is some serious bullshit going down in the background on a business tip. Look: Leela was signed to Warner Bros. They wanted her album so bad, they taped a House of Blues concert and released it as an advanced EP. And then when the debut dropped, it sold well. The videos got good rotation. Everybody was looking forward to the second album. Four years later, Leela's new release is on Shanachie, an independent label, plus she’s part of an album series based on younger artists doing covers of Soul classics. To quote the great blues man Buddy Guy, I smell a rat. Given the hard-times economic climate and the wheels coming off the recording industry, it could be that Warner dropped Leela, or it could be that Leela wanted out and was able to buy out her contract, or something. Regardless, one thing I know for sure: we need to support this sister. Buy her record. People talking about they want to hear real music. Put your money where your mouth is. Support the people who are making real music. You want to talk about the music—well, let your bucks be your mouthpiece.
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leela james 18.jpg And one more thing: “Compared To What,” that duet with Ray Charles is kind of nice. It's from a "new" Ray Charles album—most of the duets were dubbed in after the fact, nonetheless Leela hangs one on. Her voice blends well. I believe Leela James has a real future as a vocalist. Leela James makes the kind of new music that makes an old head glad that the ears (and eyes) are still working. —Kalamu ya Salaam Leela James Mixtape Playlist leela james 13.jpg 01 “Long Time Coming (Live Version)” - Live At the House of Blues leela james change cover.jpg 02 “Music” - A Change Is Gonna Come 03 “Interlude” - A Change Is Gonna Come ray charles genius & friends.jpg 04 “Compared To What” - Genius & Friends - Ray Charles with Leela James leela james again cover.jpg 05 “Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out” - Let's Do It Again 06 “Baby I'm Scared Of You” - Let's Do It Again 07 “I Try” - Let's Do It Again 08 “I'd Rather Be With You” - Let's Do It Again 09 “Simply Beautiful” - Let's Do It Again 10 “Let's Do It Again” - Let's Do It Again leela james live cover.jpg 11 “A Change Is Gonna Come (Live Version)” - Live At the House of Blues

This entry was posted on Monday, June 29th, 2009 at 1:09 pm and is filed under Cover. 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.

2 Responses to “LEELA JAMES / “Leela James Mixtape””

Dee Es Says:
June 30th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

An excellent week of writing. All three pieces made me laugh out loud, sent me rushing to the music, and brought me back for a second read. Thanks for sharing the good words.

Donnie D Says:
December 29th, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I just got on to Leela James and all I can say is WOW!! now she can Sang!! Leela takes me to a place I longed for. I cant wait for her to come to San Diego.

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