Finding success in the indie soul/r&b world is tricky in so many ways for the artists that are brave enough to give it go. The first challenge is, creating a quality project that attracts a fan following beyond your network of family, friends, and the co-workers on your day job. In other words, inspiring interest from total strangers. The second challenge is, of course, letting potential fans know that your project even exists at all (which is a whole other discussion).
Rachel Brown radiates veteran confidence and personal passion on her debut CD Love, Life & Relationships. She has nice command of her expressive voice and a good feel for vocal dynamics. At different times she evokes comparisons with high impact R&B divas such as Toni Braxton, and Rochelle Fleming (lead singer of the group, First Choice and solo artist on the dance classic, "Let No Man Put Asunder"). Ms. Brown appears to be a sincere student of classic 80's & early (pre-neosoul) 90's and the album revels in that familiar musical vibe which â€˜kept feet moving' during the rough times of the Reagan-era â€˜80s.
The dilemma for Rachel Brown is that we live in George W. Bush's 2K post 9-11 terrordome. Her writing feels frozen in a time, not acknowledging the impact of female writers such as Erykah Badu, Lauren Hill, Jill Scott or India Arie. Even in the under-funded world of independent soul and R&B, there's a lot more going on in the musical landscape than Love, Life and Relationships reveals. Indie recording artists as diverse as Angela Johnson, Martha Redbone, Julie Dexter, N'Dambi, and Conya Doss (to name a few) have brought forth some vital musical ideas that define the current scene.
Ironically, with the wave this year of retro soul and retro-R&B projects like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Amy Winehouse, Deniece Williams and Ryan Shaw, a project that looks back could be a winning approach for an artist with Rachel Brown's sensibilities. Her press information indicates that her first single "Lets Fall in Love Again" went to number one on Billboard's R & B singles chart during March of this year. That's an impressive feat for any independent artist and label. Her company, Urban Music Group, really gave her an incredible push, and did well to target the "grown and sexy" crowd with a "steppers" (a Chicago couples dance scene) tune.
But moving CDs is tough going for even high-profile major label artists, and the fans of urban adult contemporary have become notoriously frugal as record buyers. Many have become wary of buying music that, after a month, they're no longer interested in playing in their cars or on their I-pods. Many listeners can tell difference between music that sounds retro, and music that sounds dated. Love, Life & Relationships, for all it's obvious sincerity (and notwithstanding the socially conscious interlude "Something to Think About"), appears to be a project caught in a time warp.
Rachel Brown is a genuine talent, but without writing and production more in tune with the current music culture, she'll have an uphill battle becoming a relevant one.
By Les Clarke