Gary, Indiana native Emerald Jade may be a stranger to us, but she is no stranger to the music business. As the matriarch of the Powell family, she's watched over the second biggest musical clan to come out of Gary (the Jacksons being the first). Her daughters Trina and Tamara released a moderately successful album in 1999, and her son Jesse Powell has been a successful Soul artist for the better part of the last decade. Emerald performed locally in both Gary and, later on, in Philadelphia, at times in the family group Sheer Joy. She also worked in the background with a number of important artists during her time in Philly, including singer/songwriter/producer great Dexter Wansel, Oleta Adams and Heatwave's Rod Temperton.
After Emerald married "Vibe Master" Craig Monroe (who had previously worked with Soul II Soul and Tracy Chapman) a few years ago, the two established a goal of creating their own record company. So this year they started Breeze Records in Hollywood and made Emerald the label's first artist, with her daringly titled 2004 release, A New Classic.
A New Classic is a very cool, enjoyable mood piece that has a Erykah Badu-style Neo-Soul feel, but with a jazzier underpinning. Producer Monroe has created a great atmosphere for the nine cuts, and his understated, jazzy arrangements work well with Jade's kitteny voice. And while boasting a modern sound, many of the cuts have retro elements that make them work even better. "My Man" sprinkles a doo-wop layer on top of Monroe's jazzy vibe; "You Bring Joy To My Life" and "I Found Love" include an early 90s Soul II Soul style groove; The tasty "Delirious" is a wonderful Monroe-Jade duet with a 60s lounge vibe. Best of all, though is the clever "Tippin," maybe the coolest song you'll hear this year. None of the cuts are big hook pop/soul numbers, but are instead laid back, atmospheric pieces that are individually interesting, but are dynamite when laid one after another.
Jade and Monroe were certainly making a bold statement by calling the album A New Classic, and they deliver. It is a very unique, sly, entertaining late night disc that will see a lot of time in my CD player. A nice and long overdue debut by Emerald Jade.
By Chris Rizik