Ann Nesby - The Lula Lee Project (2009)

Ann Nesby
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She may have just come to the attention of the younger generation thanks to her Fighting Temptations role and the Amercian Idol connection (via her contestant granddaughter Paris Bennett), but those truly up on the game know that Ann Nesby has been dropping  inspirational and certified soul hits for over a decade. First rising to national prominence as the lead vocalist of contemporary gospel's Sounds of Blackness, the Grammy-Award-winning singer and songwriter (who's penned tunes for Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight) is one of the few blessed with a vocal versatility that effortlessly suits both sanctified and secular styles of R&B, which is what makes The Lula Lee Project such an engaging listen.

She may have just come to the attention of the younger generation thanks to her Fighting Temptations role and the Amercian Idol connection (via her contestant granddaughter Paris Bennett), but those truly up on the game know that Ann Nesby has been dropping  inspirational and certified soul hits for over a decade. First rising to national prominence as the lead vocalist of contemporary gospel's Sounds of Blackness, the Grammy-Award-winning singer and songwriter (who's penned tunes for Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight) is one of the few blessed with a vocal versatility that effortlessly suits both sanctified and secular styles of R&B, which is what makes The Lula Lee Project such an engaging listen.

Ms. Nesby, who has pipes for days, refuses to coast on standard gospel alone and kicks it up a notch by blending elements of robust R&B and balm-for-the-soul ballads with her expected testimonials about faith and the Father. The soothing hum that opens the Tonex-written and produced "I Found a Place" soon gives way to a ferociously funky bassline and soaring testimonial about how she rebukes evil by hitting her knees and finding solace in prayer ("I found a place, where the devil can't find me, I found a place where he just can't get in") -- don't be surprised if you find yourself catching the Holy Ghost while dancing the demons away on that cut. "Too Late," another collaboration with Tonex, has a rockier edge and will leave the listener in awe of her lung power as well as exalted by the "move around Satan, God's got me" message it intones.

If you prefer the more traditional sound, never fear: Ms. Nesby brings that too. "Pressure Makes Diamonds" is an uplifting ditty about withstanding the pain to earn the prize, and the tender "Praises (Go Up)" encourages an attitude of gratitude no matter where you are in life.  "Sky Is the Limit," an R&B-flavored mid-tempo, speaks on helping two lost souls with tangible blessings and word from the Lord ("took them to the store, no money left on me, charged it [food] on my card and said, 'call me if you need me' "), and for those struggling with relationships, there's the wrenching "Went Through Hell," about "a broken heart and broken home" and how she found salvation in heaven only through suffering on Earth. She doesn't forget her dance legacy either: "So Much Joy" ends the collection on an irresistibly upbeat note.

Equal parts spirituality, sass and soul, Ann Nesby's latest ...Project showcases all of her strengths and is essential listening for her followers or anyone else ready for some galvinizing, grown-folks music (the inclusion of a bonus track and video doesn't hurt either). Enthusiastically and whole-heartedly recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

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