Chaka Khan - Hello Happiness (2019)

Chaka Khan
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Chaka Khan - Hello Happiness

For as much cultural progress as has been made over the last decade in the music business, the charts are still plagued by ageism and a lack of representation of sophisticated listeners’ tastes. Yes, inevitably, many veteran artists have shifted their focus to touring over recording for reasons aligned with an ongoing decline in record sales. The influence of a vocal institution such as Chaka Khan, however, never fades far from the minds of millions of fans, whether they be ardent followers or younger artists influenced by the masterful works of her five decades as a performer. Thus, it’s a shameful reflection of the industry that since the dawning of this millennium, one can count on three fingers the number of new albums she’s released.

Chaka Khan - Hello Happiness

For as much cultural progress as has been made over the last decade in the music business, the charts are still plagued by ageism and a lack of representation of sophisticated listeners’ tastes. Yes, inevitably, many veteran artists have shifted their focus to touring over recording for reasons aligned with an ongoing decline in record sales. The influence of a vocal institution such as Chaka Khan, however, never fades far from the minds of millions of fans, whether they be ardent followers or younger artists influenced by the masterful works of her five decades as a performer. Thus, it’s a shameful reflection of the industry that since the dawning of this millennium, one can count on three fingers the number of new albums she’s released.

While Hello Happiness, Khan’s first CD since 2007’s Funk This, is, in fact, more of an EP than a full-length album, the end result is one that is likely to more than satisfy the appetites of both devotees and new recruits. The opening title track (and current single) gets to the heart of the matter within seconds of its intro: “Music makes me say, ‘Goodbye sadness, hello happiness.’” The underpinnings of British producer/DJ Switch’s sonic prowess (bolstered by live bass and guitar) immediately set a tone that is classic in essence yet contemporary in energy. There is plenty of room for Khan to spread her soaring tones without distraction, but also shine with an arrangement that matches her innate vibrancy.

Khan, who participated in the writing of all seven tracks on Hello Happiness, continues her stride with equal zeal on the kinetically potent, melodically ecstatic “Like a Lady.” Veering from sultry and seductive on the verses to her signature fiery vamping on the choruses, she evokes the same passion and endurance as four decades ago on classic Rufus movers like “Once You Get Started” and “At Midnight.” The pace is momentarily slowed a tad for a breakdown of sorts, the interestingly rock- and hip-hop-clad, riff-based “Don’t Cha Know.” Building a brashly funky groove around a handful of Khan riffs proclaiming “I got my own thang,” the number adeptly blurs the lines between futuristic and retro.

Subsequently, the stylistically defiant “Too Hot,” featuring the production input of Milan-based BOT and Canadian composer Sarah Ruba Taylor (co-founder of Diary Records, home to Hello Happiness), casts Khan amidst a soundscape of blazing organ waves and rousing guitar lines in a number that most certainly could electrify an intense scene in a deserving action flick. “Seems like a dream, but it really was a nightmare,” she relates with cheeky, bluesy innuendo before heatedly espousing, “Who’s gonna feed my fire/Need a man who likes it rough.” Few could so seamlessly carry the weight from understatement to full-on assertation that she employs to bring the words to life so unmistakably.

Last year’s “Like Sugar,” the jam that brought Khan back to the spotlight at large, fits ideally in the mix of Hello Happiness. With Khan not only delivering the backing vocals, but also some hot timbales, and Samuel Aaron Wilkes providing the deeply insinuating bass guitar so central to the track’s dynamism, the affair is hard not to be drawn into time after time. The song’s refrain is easy on the ears, yet brought to life with fervor akin to “Tell Me Something Good.” Furthermore, Khan’s vocal from start to finish will disprove any skeptic’s doubts of a true singer’s ability to drive the flow and impact of a dance floor filler.

Pure infiltrations of reggae vibes permeate “Isn’t That Enough,” with a deep-rumbling bassline by Ricky Rouse setting the stage for Khan’s declarations of bliss and contentment complemented serenely by the sublime backings of Taylor and Tiffany Smith. From there, Hello Happiness closes out with a pared-down reprisal of “Like a Lady” entitled “Ladylike.” Bringing the tempo down and softening the mood, Khan adapts the former track’s melodies into gently swaying phrases which give the lyrics heightened clarity. Not foregoing touches of sass, the cut is a reminder that whether or not there’s a bristling beat behind her, Khan makes each tune she touches a standout that is hard to resist, and even harder to forget. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 

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