Karen Bernod - #PlantingSeeds (2014)

Karen Bernod
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Karen Bernod received the kind of encouragement that only a mother can give and the type of career validation that best comes as a result of winning. Bernod’s first public singing gig came when she entered an elementary school talent contest as a seven year old. Bernod recalls seeing her mother sitting in the auditorium’s front row encouraging her to smile, move and do the jazz fingers thing. The terrified first grader looked out into the audience and nervously sang “Love On a Two Way Street” by the Moments. However, Bernod won the contest and that victory set the singer firmly on a career path that led to becoming a backing vocalist to singers such as childhood idol Chaka Kahn and Luther Vandross, as well as being tapped by Bluey to be a lead singer on two Incognito albums. Bernod sang “Marrakech” and “More of Myself,” two great tracks from Incognito’s underrated 1999 album No Time Like the Future.

Karen Bernod received the kind of encouragement that only a mother can give and the type of career validation that best comes as a result of winning. Bernod’s first public singing gig came when she entered an elementary school talent contest as a seven year old. Bernod recalls seeing her mother sitting in the auditorium’s front row encouraging her to smile, move and do the jazz fingers thing. The terrified first grader looked out into the audience and nervously sang “Love On a Two Way Street” by the Moments. However, Bernod won the contest and that victory set the singer firmly on a career path that led to becoming a backing vocalist to singers such as childhood idol Chaka Kahn and Luther Vandross, as well as being tapped by Bluey to be a lead singer on two Incognito albums. Bernod sang “Marrakech” and “More of Myself,” two great tracks from Incognito’s underrated 1999 album No Time Like the Future.  Bernod eventually became a solo performer who has released three albums including her latest, #PlantingSeeds.

Bernod grew up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and 70s at a time of social, political and cultural upheaval that ranged from the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Arts Movement. The music played in her home and neighborhood drew influences from the blues, jazz, gospel, Latin, the Caribbean and Africa. All of those musical and cultural influences can be heard on #PlantingSeeds.

So if anyone wonders why Bernod proudly and defiantly drops what can only be described as a consciousness raising project at a time when mainstream radio will flee from the album, her influences as well as her past play prominent roles in that decision. However, the present and future also figure in Bernod’s decision – hence the album’s title #PlantingSeeds.

Bernod looks at communities around the nation, including in her beloved Brooklyn, and sees the struggles facing black and brown men, and that likely inspired the tune “Endangered Species,” #PlantingSeeds’ lone live track. The tune, which uses the bass line from Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto,” spotlights the struggles faced by men of color and also stands as her statement of support.

In many ways, the tracks on #PlantingSeeds sound like a musical history lesson. The album features songs that pay honor to the First Family (“N Da House”), as well as several cuts that honor the community’s musical history and legacy. “Memories” is a “remember where you were when you heard the news,” ballad that honors the memories of musical legends such as Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. “Soul Pioneer” is a dance track that finds Bernod thanking her past and present jazz, funk, soul and blues influences. “Inspire” is a mid tempo funky number that gives musical voice to the parental advice to surround yourself with positive people.

In many ways, #PlantingSeeds is a project that is at odds with what is happening in R&B music today, but that clearly does not bother Bernod. She is an artist who doubled down on her message of uplift and consciousness raising. Of course the thing about planting seeds is that those looking for an instant payoff are likely to be disappointed. The payoff will come months or years down the line when a future artist remembers those Saturday morning clean ups and the sound of #PlantingSeeds playing in the background. In a time when popular music is so focused on the present, it is refreshing to find an artist still looking to the future. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes 

 
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