Gwendolyn Collins - Storytelling Side 1: The Simple Things (2014)

Gwendolyn Collins
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For Americans looking to sing what can be called Adult Urban Contemporary music, the path of least resistance often leads overseas. New Jersey native Gwendolyn Collins took that path, gaining a following in Europe in the run up to the release of her new project Storytelling Side 1: The Simple Things.

“Share,” Collins’ definitely-for-grown-folks single, reached the Top 30 in the UK, and American fans can hear that tune on Storytelling Side 1: The Simple Things. What exactly will music lovers hear when they listen to “Share?” The tune’s subject matter – ménage a trios – will likely set some listeners’ teeth on edge while others will view “Share” as an erotic tale well-told. A major sticking point will be the tune’s point of view being a woman who tells her man that she’s fine with sharing their bed with another woman.

For Americans looking to sing what can be called Adult Urban Contemporary music, the path of least resistance often leads overseas. New Jersey native Gwendolyn Collins took that path, gaining a following in Europe in the run up to the release of her new project Storytelling Side 1: The Simple Things.

“Share,” Collins’ definitely-for-grown-folks single, reached the Top 30 in the UK, and American fans can hear that tune on Storytelling Side 1: The Simple Things. What exactly will music lovers hear when they listen to “Share?” The tune’s subject matter – ménage a trios – will likely set some listeners’ teeth on edge while others will view “Share” as an erotic tale well-told. A major sticking point will be the tune’s point of view being a woman who tells her man that she’s fine with sharing their bed with another woman.

Classic feminists might call this another example in popular music where women allowing themselves to be used as props for the fantasies of men. A post-feminist view might be that Collins is open to exploring all aspects of her sexuality, that she will not be defined by the gender and sexual roles and mores of the past, and that such explorations could lead to places where plenty of men would not feel comfortable going.

Artists such as Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj both created work that contributed to this conversation in recent years, and with “Share” Collins created a record that captured the zeitgeist of the times. Musically, “Share” stands as an example of where Collins excels as a vocalist, a storyteller and an arranger.

Collins is most comfortable working in the intersection between jazz and soul. She is at her best when the tempo slows to a point where the lights dim and two people want to be physically and emotionally close. An upright bass and percussions propel “Share” and give the cut a wide the space for Collins’ cooingly seductive vocals and some piano improvisation.

The atmospheric “Mars” showcases Collins’ ability to deploy the tools of contemporary R&B production with imaginative storytelling in a way that shows that it’s possible to balance eroticism and mature lyricism. They keyboards give “Mars” a suspended in zero gravity feel, and the song paints a picture of an intimacy that allows two lovers to float into the heavens.

“Heaven Sent,” is a classic blues infused R&B/neo-soul ballad that is Collins’ love letter to the wonderful way her man makes her feel. The tune could have easily come from Stephanie Mills in 1984 or Jill Scott in 2004 – two women who likely serve as Collins influences.

When it comes to the art of the love, most mature folks want more and less. These listeners want something more than idealized, overly simplistic ballads geared toward adolescents, and they want something less than cuts mistake explicitness or eroticism and objectification for romance. On Storytelling Side 1: The Simple Things, Collins shows that she is an artist that is adept at giving the people what they want. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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