Loretta - Find a Way

Loretta
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Everything about French soul singer Loretta is vintage. With a wardrobe straight out of Mad Men and imaging ready for a Douglas Sirk film, Loretta clearly has a penchant for the bygone days of torpedo bras, pencil skirts, and liquid lunches. She also has a knack for capturing the sweet soulful essence of different eras of Black American Music without going hardcore retro ‘60s soul with it in the way that Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have. Throughout the familiar sound journey, Loretta finds ways to bring a taste of modernity to classic sounds. Loretta’s soul isn’t gritty or greasy, there’s too much chic pop polish coating some of these catchy melodies to achieve that kind of funk. Still, trade Muscle Shoals for Toulouse, France, and listeners might be surprised to find there are some wonderfully crafted songs here to be mined with some emotionally resonating performances that still boast quite a bit of red dirt muscle.

Everything about French soul singer Loretta is vintage. With a wardrobe straight out of Mad Men and imaging ready for a Douglas Sirk film, Loretta clearly has a penchant for the bygone days of torpedo bras, pencil skirts, and liquid lunches. She also has a knack for capturing the sweet soulful essence of different eras of Black American Music without going hardcore retro ‘60s soul with it in the way that Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have. Throughout the familiar sound journey, Loretta finds ways to bring a taste of modernity to classic sounds. Loretta’s soul isn’t gritty or greasy, there’s too much chic pop polish coating some of these catchy melodies to achieve that kind of funk. Still, trade Muscle Shoals for Toulouse, France, and listeners might be surprised to find there are some wonderfully crafted songs here to be mined with some emotionally resonating performances that still boast quite a bit of red dirt muscle. This perfectly executed balancing act of old and new, French and American, soul and pop, gives Loretta a clear edge on a host of other similarly vintage-minded Amy and Adele influenced competitors. It’s also all a kind of performance art, as Loretta is a brilliantly performed alter ego of the well-established singer/songwriter, Laure Milan.

Collaborating with better-known French soul artists like Corneille and Ben l’Oncle Soul after she first hit the music scene in 2000, Laure Milan has been releasing EPs and albums since 2006 for the Universal Music France label. Her early albums, L. Love and Smiling Angels may be hard to get your hands on in the States, but are both available as imports through major online retailers. Her latest entry as Laure Milan was a 2010 English-only digital download project entitled Say You Love Me, one that hinted at the retro sounds that dominate Find A Way, one of the most consistent and perfectly cohesive albums to be released in 2014.

Slipping into her pastel flavored Loretta persona has proven a beautiful chiffon fit and has artistically opened up something in Milan that was promised but unfulfilled in her previous offerings. Born out of pain at the recent passing of her mother, Loretta reportedly went back to the basics of the music that most moved her by artists from Aretha and Stevie to Musiq and D’Angelo, and, of course, Amy Winehouse. Unlike Winehouse, Loretta’s songs are not filled with the bawdy ironic wit and pro-drug rallying cries of a woman in crisis; rather hers are the more traditional takes on love, loss, and relationships. Yet in terms of sincerity, commitment, emotional power, and staying in tune, Loretta sometimes delivers as good as Winehouse, whose lack of discipline could undercut some of the more technical aspects of Winehouse’s otherwise soul piercing performances. In some of her tonal inflections and slightly nasal singing, Loretta also brings to mind what one imagines Alicia Keys would sound like if she could stay in key for an entire song.

Technical clean aside, it is Loretta’s commitment to emotional truth that catapults a Teena Marie type piano ballad like “Grow Old With Your Love” into the instant vintage status of torchy jazz like “Casanova Brown” and “Have My Cake And Eat It Too.” Another ‘70s soul era duet with Leon, “Give It Up,” also approaches the kind of go for broke bedroom balladry that put such acts as The Stylistics and The O’Jays on baby-making rotation. But, Loretta doesn’t just stay in the era of afros and bell bottoms: with the neo-soul of “Miss You” and the hip hop soul bonus track, “Lose You Find Me,” Loretta borrows from the late ‘90s and early 2000 run of such Philly producers as Touch of Jazz and Ivan & Carvin. Even with the period specific reference points, there is a timeless quality to much of Find A Way, especially on a jazzy mid-tempo groove like “Alive (feat. Gimenez E),” which defies time and is simply sublime soul for any era.

Nonetheless, the age closest to the Loretta brand is the ‘60s, and the sultry alto makes sure each of the different transitions within that period get a twirl on the turntable. With “Miracles” and “The Wonder That You Are,” Loretta channels the early girl group sounds, but isn’t faithful to all of its doo-wop conventions, lightly contemporizing it. There is also the deep soul swing of the middle, Stax-influenced years with “Sometimes,” where Loretta channels a mean Mavis Staples for the closer and the background arrangement is something close to God. The Chess years of that era’s more blues influenced material with “Rebirth” and “Still Loving You” also get lovingly rendered. Of course, you can’t approach the Civil Rights years without a nod to the Motor City’s prodigal sons and daughters of Motown, which Loretta does with great purism on “Find A Way,” from the backbeat to the tambourine.  

Charges of derivation would be well founded, as with many foreign blue-eyed soul artists from Europe influenced by the greats, but it’s well done derivation with plenty of deference to the conceits and innocence of the vintage periods from which Loretta draws musical inspirations. There isn’t a single song on the warmly organic Find A Way without live instrumentation nor one that doesn’t sing with an ear for melody and accessibility. Lyrically, there also is nothing that is untoward or profane, demonstrating yet again that it is possible to be honest and listenable across the age spectrum. While it may have been born from grief, there’s a gift in what Laure Milan has done through Loretta, a special old school energy she may want to embody for an album or three longer. In the meantime, find a way to cop Find A Way quickly since this kind of visceral lightning in a bottle performance art may only strike once, never to be re-experienced again. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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