Teena Marie - Beautiful (2013)

Teena Marie
TeenaMarieBeautiful.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Genuine, generous and gifted with a down-to-the-bone level of soul: before there was a Duffy, an Adele or an Amy Winehouse, there was the incomparable Christine Marie Brockert, a.k.a. Teena Marie. A porcelain-complexioned, green-eyed wisp of a woman that drew shock, then lifelong street cred, for her undeniably urban aesthetic, Ms. Marie’s sumptuous soprano and her penchant for fiercely funky jams and powerfully passionate ballads cemented her status as an R&B icon. Although she was overlooked and underappreciated by the fickle world of mainstream pop (outside 1984’s “Lovergirl”), Teena’s fiercely loyal fanbase rewarded her virtuosity with three solidly-selling CDs in the mid and late 2000s (2004’s La Dona, 2006’s Sapphire and 2009’s Congo Square) that retained her reign as soul music royalty.

Genuine, generous and gifted with a down-to-the-bone level of soul: before there was a Duffy, an Adele or an Amy Winehouse, there was the incomparable Christine Marie Brockert, a.k.a. Teena Marie. A porcelain-complexioned, green-eyed wisp of a woman that drew shock, then lifelong street cred, for her undeniably urban aesthetic, Ms. Marie’s sumptuous soprano and her penchant for fiercely funky jams and powerfully passionate ballads cemented her status as an R&B icon. Although she was overlooked and underappreciated by the fickle world of mainstream pop (outside 1984’s “Lovergirl”), Teena’s fiercely loyal fanbase rewarded her virtuosity with three solidly-selling CDs in the mid and late 2000s (2004’s La Dona, 2006’s Sapphire and 2009’s Congo Square) that retained her reign as soul music royalty. Lady T’s untimely passing in late 2010 may have prevented her from riding out that well-deserved second wind into a new millenium, but her fourteenth and final studio CD, Beautiful, highlights her incomparable ease with melding modern trends and classically-arranged narratives to produce sophisticated, yet street-savvy grooves.

As expected, Ms. Marie’s signature trill and prolific pen game is prominently displayed: with the exception of a Curtis Mayfield remake, the remaining eleven tracks were written or co-written by the California native and her vocals offer all of the expected trills. “Luv Letter” is a tantalizing throwback to her Motown years, tangy flirtations stretched over a bouncy beat, while “Love Starved” posits her as a woman finally able to feast, rather than nibble at, a full serving of adoration and affection: “Just like honeysuckle sweetness, in a candy store/you’re everything I want in a man and so much more/Stop, look, listen to your heart and what it’s saying/that’s the one to walk you down to Lovers Lane.”

When placed alongside 2009’s Congo Square, listeners will notice that the texture and subject matter of Beautiful isn’t as varied, but that doesn’t mean Ms. Marie’s adeptness at interpreting multiple genres has dwindled.  Ms. Marie’s “Maria Bonita (For My Mother)” is a steamy Latin number into which she delves with intricacy and aplomb, and the hip-hop twist served up in “Sweet Tooth,” the first of three tracks that feature her daughter, Alia Rose, sounds as effortless and organic as the sensuality that she serves up in the Quiet-Storm-ready “Wild Horses” and “The Perfect Feeling.” Listening to their other two collaborations, such as the glib re-tooling of “Give Me Your Love” and the undulating, irresistible club cut, “Rare Breed,” have the bittersweet effect of making fans cheer for Alia’s well-honed instincts and emerging talents while lamenting further duets between mother and daughter that will never be.

When the light of a superstar dims before its time, it can be hard to cull a final release from what remains that will properly capture their essence, but Beautiful succeeds at doing just that, suspending in time the awe-inspiring range and trailblazing style that enabled the petite powerhouse to stand tall amongst her peers as a triple threat singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. As she crooned in a pair of autobiographical songs within the collection, Teena Marie will forever embody “The Definition of Down” and remain immortalized as a “Rare Breed” in an era that embraced mediocrity and marketing over true musicianship: “I’m a fine-tuned instrument Baby, it’s in my DNA” is not just a lyric, it’s her lifelong mission statement----and because of that truth, this final studio release from Lady T lives up to its name. Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
Featured Album - Conya Doss - CLEAR
Album of the Month - Cecile McLorin Salvant - The Window
Featured Album - Raul Midón - If You Really Want
Featured Album - Anthony David - Hello Like Before

Leave a comment!