Marsha Ambrosius - Late Nights, Early Mornings (2011)

Marsha Ambrosius

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The 2000s was a decade filled with exhilarating highs and devastating lows for the England duo known as Floetry. After combining their mutual flair for lyrics, vocals and rhymes, Natalie "the Floacist" Stewart and Marsha "the Songstress" Ambrosius cut their teeth in London clubs before moving to the US in 2000. Penning tunes for some of music's best and brightest (Jill Scott, Glenn Lewis, Bilal and Michael Jackson) paved the way for their 2002 debut, Floetic, which sold nearly a million copies with its infectious title cut and a pair of sexy slow-burners, "Getting Late" and "Say Yes." A handful of Grammy nominations and two other CDs followed, but by then, personal dramas silenced their partnership, the duo essentially reduced to a solo act (Ms. Stewart was briefly replaced by MTV2 VJ Amanda Diva, also known for recording an underground rap hit, "40 Emcees").

The 2000s was a decade filled with exhilarating highs and devastating lows for the England duo known as Floetry. After combining their mutual flair for lyrics, vocals and rhymes, Natalie "the Floacist" Stewart and Marsha "the Songstress" Ambrosius cut their teeth in London clubs before moving to the US in 2000. Penning tunes for some of music's best and brightest (Jill Scott, Glenn Lewis, Bilal and Michael Jackson) paved the way for their 2002 debut, Floetic, which sold nearly a million copies with its infectious title cut and a pair of sexy slow-burners, "Getting Late" and "Say Yes." A handful of Grammy nominations and two other CDs followed, but by then, personal dramas silenced their partnership, the duo essentially reduced to a solo act (Ms. Stewart was briefly replaced by MTV2 VJ Amanda Diva, also known for recording an underground rap hit, "40 Emcees"). After collaborating with multiple artists (Hi-Tek, Nas, Jamie Foxx, The Game, etc.) and dropping half a dozen mixtapes, Ms. Ambrosius' much-anticipated solo debut, Late Nights, Early Mornings, captures what is so intriguing about the triple-threat performer: her straight-forward sensuality, her emotional authenticity and the way she grafts those qualities together into melodic masterpieces.

Late Nights.... is a collection of polished, yet passionate songs that, for the most part, are produced and written by Ms. Ambrosius. She does have some well-known collaborators to help with the heavy lifting (Just Blaze, Alicia Keys, Rich Harrison, Focus, Dre & Vidal), but the final result is still----pun intended----Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. She's up-front and assertive with hers, unconsciously orgasmic during "With You," stealthily salacious in the Purple Rain-worthy title track and conveying worshipful wonder at her lover's touch in "Your Hands" ("You know just what I need and where to be/Lead the way and I'll follow wherever you land"). "I Want You To Stay" is a tear-stained plea set in motion over a mesmerizing mid-tempo groove, and "Tears," one of the shortest selections, recalls the doo-wop era of 1970s-esque soul ("See I'm a grown woman, and I ain't too proud/ so I'm beggin' you, stay with me/ I want you back, don't you leave me here") and harvests high notes that would make the late Minnie Riperton proud.

What keeps the flavoring bittersweet instead of sappy is the fact that Ms. Ambrosius can bring the pain just as well as the pleasure. She refuses to take a number and wait in line for a man's commitment in "The Break Up Song," pleading for space as she wrestles with a reluctance to leave and the compulsion to stay ("She began to tell me all the things you don't/like how you're still together, and leaving you she won't. How am I supposed to deal, when pain is all I feel/this is all too real."). And she acknowledges that she's "just a little bitter" in the gleefully ill-willed "Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player)," where she wishes aloud that his new girl is a dense-as-the-tropics, gold-digging jump-off ("Hope that she Kim Kardashianed her way up/Don't know the difference between a touchdown and a layup/Got you on Viagra in order for you to stay up").

As it is with most CDs, some songs are more compelling than others: "Chasing Clouds" has a sweet and dreamy feel, but isn't as hypnotic as "Far Away." Her remake of the Lauryn Hill track, "Lose Myself,"  slows the backdrop without losing the punch of the original, but "Sour Times," while fitting of her vast emotional repertoire, follows too closely to Portishead's version to make a deeper impact. The "Butterflies [Remix]" serves a dual purpose, paying tribute to the late, great MJ while providing the collection with an up tempo, hip-hop edge.

Self-possessed, skillfully-rendered and undeniably soulful, Ms. Ambrosius' debut is already one of 2011's Must-Haves: if you value depth and dimension in your listening experience, count on having many Late Nights & Early Mornings with this CD/download enveloping your ears. Enthusiastically Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
Featured Album - Will Downing - "Romantique, Part 1"
Featured Album - The Soul Rebels - "Poetry In Motion"
Album of the Month - Plunky & Oneness - "Afroclectic"
Choice Cut - Chris Jasper - "For The Love of You"

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