ABIAH - Life as a Ballad (2012)

ABIAH
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Shag carpeting, polyester leisure suits, mutton-chop sideburns and butterfly collars. If you ask folks who remember the 1970s, many of its hallmarks fell short of worth beyond the era in which they came to fruition, but that truth usually doesn’t apply to its music. There was plenty of vivaciousness and variety in lyrics and from performers, especially when it came to soul. Whether the artists reveled in fiery funk, politically-driven protest songs or steamy boudoir balladry, the music had layers of lusciousness that indelibly impacted those who encountered it; and that’s what comes to mind when experiencing Abiah’s sophomore release, Life as a Ballad.

Shag carpeting, polyester leisure suits, mutton-chop sideburns and butterfly collars. If you ask folks who remember the 1970s, many of its hallmarks fell short of worth beyond the era in which they came to fruition, but that truth usually doesn’t apply to its music. There was plenty of vivaciousness and variety in lyrics and from performers, especially when it came to soul. Whether the artists reveled in fiery funk, politically-driven protest songs or steamy boudoir balladry, the music had layers of lusciousness that indelibly impacted those who encountered it; and that’s what comes to mind when experiencing Abiah’s sophomore release, Life as a Ballad.

Since his mother was a professional musician and he’s a cousin to Robert Glasper, it’s not a surprise that Abiah (who previously recorded as Jeremiah) has an affinity for music, but what’s mesmerizing is how well he conveys it. The arrangements, which combine his ear for melody and lyrical prowess with the skills of Glasper, guitarist Marvin Sewell and co-producers Ulysses Owens Jr. and Keith Witty, are luxurious and refined, and his tautly-controlled, yet tremulous vocals sparkle as the most brilliant jewel atop the painstakingly polished crown.

Each of the nine tracks reflect different moods and moments, but all are sensuous and soul-piercing: “September” is mournful and mellifluous, spilling his broken heart’s contents over a dash of high hat and a lone piano as he reminisces about the disintegration of a love affair in a way that recalls the plainspoken prose of Bill Withers: “I guess you lost your sense of humor, no longer think that I’m so clever/mouthing words before they part my lips, a conversation with you can be so damn quick.”“Goodbye” is as raw as it is resolute, and his arrangement of a trademark Prince hit (the title will make it easy to recognize) is as arresting and audacious as it gets, transforming its tangy funk-fueled suggestiveness into a vulnerable, yet leisurely-paced soliloquy.

If Abiah’s 2006 debut, Chasing Forever, served as an announcement of his undeniable aptitude, then this latest collection reinforces his place among past and present performers as a connoisseur of the craft. Supple and soothing, its sparse arrangements and expertly-applied trills and riffs will haunt listeners long after the CD concludes.  The pace may be too languorous for some, but Abiah’s lilting croon and his sophisticated subtlety will reward ones willing to pursue this lavish Life.  Highly recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

 
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