In a modern world increasingly populated by retro-R&B acts, the lines are often blurred between what's contemporary and what's classic. Sandra St. Victor can lay claim to both qualities—although she's not the type of singer-songwriter one can easily define via a label of any sort. While the onslaught of many recent comebacks by longtime artists has often been dimmed by low budgets and subpar material, St. Victor's strong lyrical identity and musical fashion ensure that nearly every song she records and releases is a top-notch affair.
Oya's Daughter, St. Victor's fourth proper solo album of the past two decades, finds her comfortably blending the neo-soul elements, hip-hop influences, and shades of rock that have garnered her a diverse following since her early industry experiences as a live touring vocalist with Chaka Khan and founding member of Evon Jeffries & The Stand, aka The Family Stand. Fans of signature tunes like "Chocolate" (from 1996's Mack Diva Saves the World) will be thoroughly engaged by the chugging beats and everyday life stories of "Fate's Laugh," while listeners who found personal haven in 2001's "Molasses Rain" (from Gemini: Both Sides) will find a familiar resonance in Oya's lead single, "Coming Around."
Social realities of modern-day African-American culture and the state of music are subjects that St. Victor tackles deeply, but far from overbearingly. She permeates the moody, groovy "Sugarfoot Is Dead" with a dialogue full of revelations: "So, we've got this Black President, but our Black presence still ain't felt/Oh sure, we can dance, sing, and play ball with the best of them/But let us point out anything that matters, what we get with is dealt." It's not merely the striking directness of her message that pulls the listener in here; it's also the subtle yet unmistakably sassy moxie of her tone, which is all the more enhanced by background vocal riffs through which she inflects shades of jazz into her soul. Later on, the contagiously funky "What Have We Learned (Part 1)" soothes with smooth layers of keyboards atop a head-nodding beat, as she imparts, "Head spinning, vertigo/Chasing time, very slow/How many lies have we been told/How many lives have to go before we reap the benefits we've sown...casualties of progress, I guess..."
In addition to worldly messages and danceable rhythms, Oya's Daughter also provides ample room for laid-back melodies and romantic prose, as showcased in the flowing "Eternal," which is graced with illustrious horn work and jazz-guitar strums. The contemplative "Presence" finds St. Victor taking her delicate time to convey urgency to a spiritually absent lover. Her restraint on the latter makes a soulfully bold statement. Elsewhere, the pleasantly palatable shuffler, "Spirit Talk," combines emotion and philosophy in a bundle of underground sensibility and mainstream accessibility.
Just as Oya's Daughter employs a healthy diversity of lyrical scenarios, so does it shine a light on St. Victor's equally versatile vocal prowess. Whether she's enriching lines with bluesy nuances ("Another Kind of Diva"), incorporating festive phrasing ("I Prefer"), or keeping the vibe low-key ("Awakenings"), the end result is consistently convincing. This convergence of meaning and style is what real soul is all about, making St. Victor an exemplary keeper of the flame for authentic music that is at once both contemporary and timeless. Highly Recommended.
by Justin Kantor
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