Dr. E - Songs for the Struggle (2017)

Dr. E
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Dr. E - Songs for the Struggle

Addiction causes people to live in a world of falsehoods, with the most damaging lies being the ones that they tell themselves. Conversely, some of the most honest people I know are those committed to the daily struggle of recovery, and that honesty begins with the person they look at in the mirror. Many recovering addicts confront, embrace and discuss their deceptions, decisions and dysfunctions with a level of clinical specificity that is refreshingly honest and uncomfortable.

It cannot be easy for a person to expose their unflattering moments to the light of day, even if many of those personal failings occurred publicly in front of family and friends. Yet, that is what Dr. Elaine Richardson, the singer/songwriter and Ph.D graduate who performs under the name Dr. E, does on her autobiographical concept album, Songs for the Struggle.

Dr. E - Songs for the Struggle

Addiction causes people to live in a world of falsehoods, with the most damaging lies being the ones that they tell themselves. Conversely, some of the most honest people I know are those committed to the daily struggle of recovery, and that honesty begins with the person they look at in the mirror. Many recovering addicts confront, embrace and discuss their deceptions, decisions and dysfunctions with a level of clinical specificity that is refreshingly honest and uncomfortable.

It cannot be easy for a person to expose their unflattering moments to the light of day, even if many of those personal failings occurred publicly in front of family and friends. Yet, that is what Dr. Elaine Richardson, the singer/songwriter and Ph.D graduate who performs under the name Dr. E, does on her autobiographical concept album, Songs for the Struggle.

Music fans, especially those in the Cleveland area, know Richardson as the lead singer of the Cleveland based R&B band Fleshcoat. How Richardson graduated from Michigan State with a doctorate and became the lead singer of a R&B band is detailed in her memoir, PHD to Ph.D: How Education Saved My Life.

Richardson was a victim of sex trafficking and addiction as a teenager, and that is a story that usually results in a bad outcome – in reality and in song. However, most artists who sing about these topics are voicing their perceptions -- and in some cases, glamourized images that they brought to the world’s oldest profession. That’s not the case in tracks such as the spoken word interludes “Addicted To the Whole 9,” where Dr. E talks about being so addicted to drugs and the street life that she could not take care of her child, or “H Story,” where she assumes the role of the new girl being instructed by the pimp’s Bottom B.

“I Didn’t Know” finds Dr. E telling the story of her descent into addiction and prostitution. She is accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and that provides space for listeners to hear the lyrics that tell a painful story of a person living fast and hard and what those choices cost in terms of opportunities lost. “Wasting all of my nights/I could have been home/I could have been using my mind/but I wasn’t strong/I could have been feeding my brain/making beautiful things/ Wasting my life.

Ultimately, however, Songs for the Struggle is as much, if not more, a story of triumph. The Ph.D behind Richardson’s name no longer stands for “Po’ Ho on Dope.” She earned a doctorate in philosophy in English and applied linguistics, as she tells in the short interlude “Testimony.”

Most of the other cuts on this hard driving, funky project detail how Dr. E gained agency over her life and grew from her experiences, such as the triumphantly rocking“The Whole 9,” where the declaration “Can’t nobody fool me now/Can’t nobody rule me now/Cuz I been through the whole nine” is a statement that her experiences have made her stronger and wiser.

“Deaky” is a kind of Funkadelic inspired funk/rock fusion track driven by slashing guitars and pounding drums and tells a story of a meeting with a guy who likes what he sees and proposes a freaky tryst. The new and in control Dr. E can look into the future and is honest how this one night stand might end up and declines.

After listening to Dr. E display the kind of vocal dexterity that allows her to effortlessly move from embodying a green teenager taking her first step down a destructive path on the funky rocker, “13,” to “Now I Know,” a song of self-realization that is sung like a prayer, you can’t help but wonder how many similarly talented and intelligent young women (and men) were unable to turn their lives around. And Songs for the Struggle gives both voice and hope to others caught in a bad spiral. Solidly Recommended

By Howard Dukes

 

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