The Floacist - Floetic Soul (2010)

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    For many musical partnerships, change is par for the course.   Sometimes a duo or band exhausts its creative course or internal strife impedes the musical relationship, with new members replacing the old.  And sometimes groups even disband despite the a successful track record.  Between 2002 and 2007, two close childhood friends, Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart, who met as athletes, equally shared a passion for songwriting and performing.  With Ambrosius's energetic voice combined with Stewart's breathtaking spoken word skills, the duo of Floetry (first known as Nat & Marsh) climbed their way to the top via poetry slams in the U.K.   Their popularity then spread to the U.S.
    as Ambrosius (The Songstress) and Stewart (The Floacist) moved to Philadelphia.  After signing with DJ Jazzy Jeff's A Touch of Jazz label, their neo-soul smooth poetic magic exploded with two Grammy-nominated discs (Floetic and Flo'Ology), a live project (Floacism) and a steady stream of hits ("Say Yes," "Getting Late," "Supastar").  Their joy ride seemed destined for a long ride.  However, Floetry's time began to run out in 2007 after Stewart departed and Ambrosius eventually left for her solo career.  

    Working in a solo vein is nothing new for Stewart, who recently spoke with SoulTracks about her longtime dream to deliver poetry with musical intent:  "This is a mantra that I have been working for a very long time; creating the way you get a message on a musical stage with a poetry message and what it would mean for the people."  Regarding her transitional period from Floetry, Stewart felt the original creative purpose behind the duo was being stifled:  "The management was attempting to take Floetry in a different direction; thinking it needed to crossover.  I did not want my baby being taken away.  That was not what Floetry was created for."  Being one of the few spoken word artists in the current mainstream urban market, Stewart believes this exclusive work of art can be a blessing when it comes to inspiring others:  "I am very much into being a different artist.  I've become very focused on that.  I can only assume that poets aren't thinking that they can bring their music to the mainstream.  Maybe they feel they are overwhelmed by rappers.  I do not."  While she enjoyed her association with Ambrosius, she is even more excited when speaking about her collaborators on The Floacist presents Floetic Soul: Musiq Soulchild, Lalah Hathaway and Raheem DeVaughn.  I asked Ms. Stewart what she specifically looks for when teaming with such diverse vocal talents:  "Ethos; the energy that comes off of them.  We just kind of go from there.  Just organic; what they are trying to share, what their energy is and what they stand for."

    Stewart's spoken word manifestations on Floetic Soul elevate the soulful, jazzy atmospheric grooves from producers J.R. Hutson, Chris ‘Big Dog' Davis and Stewart's FREE SUM MUSIC (Know I-Special and Sound Brigade: Salem Brown and D.L. 4.0).  As an efficient and prepared musician, Stewart spent just twelve days to produce Floetic Soul, a sweet collage of romantic love, relationships, hope and empowerment: "I don't like to waste time.  I'm always writing. I'm always journalizing my life and my surroundings.  I don't force songs. I don't try to figure out how to cheat people into buying my record with one song."

    The first single off Floetic Soul, "Forever," features one of neo-soul's major forces, Musiq Soulchild, in an eloquent love ballad dripping with Fender Rhoades piano about a man and woman's sincere commitment to another: "When my life was rearranged, I had you."  Raheem DeVaughn, another of Stewart's influences, pumps up the vocal hooks on the sexy, "Keep it Going".   Lalah Hathaway's calm performance graces the soothing and sensual, "Come Over," backed with guitar drips and soft bursts of keys, brass and strings.  "Breathe" is Stewart's textbook about handling stress and knowing one's purpose in life:  "You may have to leave some things behind. You may have to change your mind."  Stewart shifts gears from the mellow to the funk filled zone with "What U Gonna Do?", an insightful look into how to live one's life to the fullest.  The same goes for "Go Get It," taking the theme of confidence one step further with the tale of a woman who carries a strong belief in herself: "She knows who she is and that is a good thing.  She is prepared for the opportunity of success. She is truly blessed and you can hear it."  In the most ambitious move on Floetic Soul, Stewart detours from the jazzy soul mood to the intense marching rhythms of "The Stand," challenging those to face their fears: "How do you know when you just give in?"

    With Floetic Soul, Stewart successfully continues the neo-soul and poetic flow tradition carried over from Floetry's glory days.  And even though Stewart and Ambrosius won the hearts of many R&B loyalists during their brief tenure, change has now presented The Floacist ample opportunity to expand her own creative space and expand her own fan base - and she delivers.  Highly  Recommended.

    By Peggy Oliver