Let's keep it real: there are some people who, if given the opportunity, would turn back the clock and relive the days of their youth, but for most of us, there's just something special about being "grown." In the mercurial entertainment industry, the Powers That Be perpetuate the ideas and the looks of being young for their artists as long as possible, but the ability to navigate through life with clarity, confidence and wisdom can only occur with experience, so that's what newcomers and fans will hear when they get an earful of Ashanti Munir's latest CD, Soul of a Woman.
A sultry and well-seasoned follow-up of her 2008 release, Balance, Soul.... contains, along with the first-rate production (Craig A. Eleazer and Felix Mwangi), the hallmarks of artistic self-assuredness and skill. In addition to co-writing seven of the twelve tracks and authoring one exclusively, the Boston, MA native also supplies both lead and background vocals, dabbling in flavors of jazz ("Easy Way About U,"), funk-fringed R&B ("So Smooth"), old-school and pop. Her vocals range from sweet to outright sinewy, recalling Atlantic Starr's Sharon Bryant on the self-empowered mantra, "Don't Be Afraid" and the revelatory ballad, "Until U," where she all but gushes about the man who added color to a drab existence by walking into her life and personifying her nighttime dreams and daytime fantasies.
Ms. Munir is versatile enough to bring different moods to the mix: there's the Quiet-Storm-ready "It Should Be U," the throaty, yet sinuous "Blue" and the anthem-esque title track, where she declares to a potential suitor that he needs to reach higher and dig deeper in order to earn the totality of her womanhood: "You say you want to be in my heart, you need to set yourself, apart./Although you claim to be the one...to reach my soul you must be strong and true/know what to say and what to do." The pair of remakes, a cover of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby" and Mary J. Blige's "Ooh!," are serviceable, but the musical arrangements mirror the original versions too dutifully for Ms. Munir to put her stamp on them creatively.
Aside from a few clunky or clichéd selections ("Sometimes Love" and "Miracles" mean well, but are too self-conscious to make an impact), those who appreciate luxurious and lived-in music will enjoy the contents of this lady's Soul. Ashanti Munir embraces her musical gifts, spins them into appealing lessons about love and life and then passes them on to the world at large, just as any other righteous grown sister would.
By Melody Charles