Aaradhna - Treble and Reverb (2013)

Aaradhna
Aaradhna Treble and Reverb.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Her voice is a cross between Lauryn Hill and India.Arie, while her music is pure ‘60s girl group cotton candy. It’s an odd juxtaposition that only occasionally works as high art, but is rarely less than entertaining. Produced by co-writers Evan Short and Pete Wadams with all the sheen of a major label record, and its accompanying manufactured feel of assembly line soul, Treble & Reverb is both a great pop record and a somewhat artificial soul product. The problem with this 2012 release from New Zealand that’s just beginning to find its legs in the U.S. thanks to a killer single and video in “Great Man,” is that it wants to be both a great pop and soul record, but only occasionally achieves both.

Her voice is a cross between Lauryn Hill and India.Arie, while her music is pure ‘60s girl group cotton candy. It’s an odd juxtaposition that only occasionally works as high art, but is rarely less than entertaining. Produced by co-writers Evan Short and Pete Wadams with all the sheen of a major label record, and its accompanying manufactured feel of assembly line soul, Treble & Reverb is both a great pop record and a somewhat artificial soul product. The problem with this 2012 release from New Zealand that’s just beginning to find its legs in the U.S. thanks to a killer single and video in “Great Man,” is that it wants to be both a great pop and soul record, but only occasionally achieves both.

With provocative titles like “Lorena Bobbit” and an openness to profanity, Aardhna’s work follows the humorous, irony infused performance art of Little Jackie and Amy Winehouse by bringing contemporary realism and streetwise cleverness to songs designed to project the sweet nostalgic innocence of the 1950s and early ‘60s. “Bob’s Your Uncle,” for instance, is a doo-wop romp that calls out a loose girl for publicly claiming that all of the different suitors she’s juggling are various family members. The Ronnettes and Shangrilas might have been angst ridden and torn between the loves of two men, but they’d never be accused of spreading it around town and lying about it. Meanwhile, “Sit With A Slouch” essentially finds Aaradhna channeling her inner Beyonce, thumbing her nose at critics, “bitches,” and “haters” who’d attempt to control her, all done to music drenched in sentimentality. You can see how that might not always work musically as an approach. Not everyone has Winehouse’s deftness.

Still, other songs like the Copacabana cocktail chic of “Keep My Cool” and the sock hop slow dance “Can We Go Back” abandons all pretenses at edge and totally gives in to the schmaltzy pop conventions of the hoop skirt and Bobby Soxer days. Sometimes the clean approach works, as with the pleading “Great Man,” an infectious ditty that easily soars above the rest of the material. While still ushering in “language” like: “I got a good man, and I don’t want to take that sh*t for granted,” the rest of the song is a straight up and down classic soul song worthy of any Stax greats, but also sounding neo-soul enough that it could have been recorded for Hill’s The MisEducation of Lauryn Hill or Arie’s Voyage to India.

The selling point and sometimes the saving grace of Treble & Reverb is its lead singer’s undeniable talent. First, the Samoan and Indian Aaradhna, who hails from Porirua, New Zealand, poses her own juxtaposition by boasting a church girl voice straight out of Detroit or Jersey. Once an associate member of the R&B/pop girl group, Adeaze, Aaradhna is a Top 20 star in her home country with two other albums under her belt, including her gold-selling Dawn Raid Entertainment label debut, I Love You. Her sophomore album, Sweet Soul Music, hailed this direction into retro-soul, one she follows through on Treble & Reverb. It’s a direction that gives room to showcase an instrument that is nothing less than flawless, particularly on the heartbreaking ballad “I’m Not The Same” and the show-stopping vocal runs spotlighted on “Back of My Mind.”

Soulful and rich with technique, songs like “I’m Not The Same,” “Back of My Mind” and “Great Man” makes it clear why Aaradhna chose to mine retro-soul, a trend that always seems to be the twilight cusp of its overly long run back in front. Retro-soul gives Aaradhna room and ease, even though her voice is better suited for the ‘80s and ‘90s smooth soul that made stars out of Karen White, Kelly Price, and Faith Evans. This sense of a musical mismatch isn’t helped by songs that, while solid and polished, are largely forgettable the second the project ends. With 17 tracks, it also seemingly takes an eternity for it to end for contemporary ears now conditioned to 10-12 album tracks before ear fatigue settles in. The couple of attempts at modernity, like the sung rap of “Burned It Up,” strive for an urbanity that feels more pretend than real. Luckily, those more street moments are briefly lived. 

Still under age 30, with mega-watt talent and beauty to spare, Aaradhna’s far from done and rightly so. With the right combination of songs and producers, there’s nothing to keep this New Zealand treasure from international stardom and critical acclaim. In the meantime, Treble & Reverb is just a solid enough offering to keep us invested in what the surprising ingénue has up her sleeve next. Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
Song of the Month - Wade C. Long - Running
Album of the Month - Ty Causey - God Is Love
SoulTracks Special - Johnny Mathis - "The Voice of Romance" CD Box Set
Listening Room - Dave Koz and Friends - 20th Anniversary Christmas

Leave a comment!