Neo-Soul, 1920s style. That's the initial impression that talented young singer/songwriter Lina gives to listeners of her music. The Dallas, Texas native first hit the national airwaves in 2001 with her debut album, Stranger on Earth, on Atlantic Records. It was an unusual blend of genres ranging from hip-hop to swing, and included a minor hit with "Playa No Mo." Lina proved herself to also be a solid songwriter, penning "Ain't Nothing Like a Jones" for Tyrese.
In 2004, Lina moved to up-and-coming urban adult label Hidden Beach, which has recently made a name for itself with intelligent, offbeat adult soul artists such as Jill Scott. Lina's Hidden Beach debut, the adult-oriented The Inner Beauty Movement, was released in June, 2005, several months after its initial single, "Come to Mama," hit radio. True to her genre-bending ways, Lina continues on the new disc to ambitiously combine elements of various contemporary and past styles, with mixed results. She's especially fond of early swing sounds of the 1920-30s and mixes them with modern beats and sensibilities. While these arrangements are interesting, they occasionally -- especially when combined with her high pitched, sometimes pouty voice -- come off as rather gimmicky and take away from what is really an excellent bunch of compositions.
When Lina downplays the retro-arrangements the album shines, especially on the reggae-influenced "Hope, Wish & Pray," the very nice midtempos, "I Am," "Smooth" and "Let It Go," and especially on the infectious "Come to Mama." What comes through most on Inner Beauty is what a fine songwriter Lina has become. Her tunes are memorable and her lyrics, here thematically covering topics of self-esteem and independence, work quite well.
In our homogenous Mc-processed hip-hop musical world, it is difficult to criticize an artist who is doing something as different as The Inner Beauty Movement, so I'll applaud Lina for showing a unique, individual style,even though I don't think it always works. And despite my misgivings about some of the album's arrangements, The Inner Beauty Movement leaves little question that Lina is an extremely talented and courageous singer/songwriter who should make some waves with this disc for all the right reasons.
By Chris Rizik