Few artists have been as poised for greatness over the past decade as Amel Larrieux, and fewer yet at the precipice have made a conscious decision to steer clear of the fame game in favor of creative freedom.
Amel Larrieux was raised in the artistic haven of West Village in New York, her mother being a professor of performing arts who helped shape her daughter's future artistic vision. The family later moved to Philadelphia, but a teenage Larrieux returned to New York to pursue her musical dream.
In 1995 she teamed with Mantronix's Bryce Wilson to form the duo Groove Theory. Moving beyond ordinary hip-hop to a melodic, irresistible blend of beats and soul, the group's sole album became a turning points in the burgeoning Neo-Soul movement of the mid-90s. The single "Tell Me" hit the Pop and Soul top 10s and introduced Larrieux's sweet, intimate vocals to the world.
Groove Theory split after one album and Larrieux began working on her highly anticipated solo debut, Infinite Possibilities. As in her work with Groove Theory, Possibilities was a infectious disc, but also showed more of Larrieux's personality, as it expanded her sound to pick up more jazz and World influences. Seemingly poised for star status, Larrieux wanted instead to move in a more personal direction with her music - a desire that was not shared by her label, Epic - and she parted ways with the label and signed with the independent Bliss Life Records.
Larrieux was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2003 for her vocal duet with Glenn Lewis on Stanley Clarke's "Where Is the Love," and followed it in 2004 with Bravebird, her first independent release. Bravebird won critical praise from many circles, both for its musical innovation and for the lyrical content, including the socially conscious title cut (which condemns the female circumcision prevalent in parts of the Third World) and "Givin' Something Up."
In 2006, Amel and husband/producer Laru Larrieux teamed for her third solo album, Morning, again on Blisslife. As in Larrieux's previous discs, Morning obliterates lines between R&B, world, folk and jazz in a way that few major label artists would touch. Laru's production is creative and charming throughout, with unusual arrangements and backdrops for the often ethereal vocals of his wife. So even a musical truffle like the opening cut, "Trouble," avoids cutesiness and winds up an infectious pop cut that's tough to get out of your head. Even better are the first single, "Weary," a melodic mid-tempo with a bright beat that belies the seriousness of the song's message, and the beautiful ballad "No One Else." And while the arrangements and Larrieux's vocal work remain strong throughout the album, the second half of the disc sags a bit under the weight of less interesting compositions.
Her sweet, engaging voice and her unusual musical instincts continue to make Amel Larrieux a fun artist to hear, a decade after she emerged on the musical scene. And while Morning isn't her strongest disc, it's a reminder that she is not just "another neo-soul singer," but is one of the most creative soul artists today.
In May, 2007, Amel released Lovely Standards, an album of classic pop songs.
by Chris Rizik