As much as Selah is a musical massage, its subtleties also present a fascinating, impressionistic approach to jazz fusion worth discussing. To call Selah smooth jazz would be too simplistic. It does have a firm foot wading in that shadowy "catch-all" pond. Yet, the rootsy "Cruising" and "Revolution Children" both could be considered folk music as much as jazz; representative of a music hybrid originated by Wes Montgomery and Dianne Reeves and since furthered by Lizz Wright and Norah Jones. Both compositions and Sharon's caressing delivery evoke Southern sycamores blowing in the breeze and smoky juke joints jamming on the edges of murky bayous. With the title track, the album takes a slight detour from the red dirt into the urbane world of spoken word cafes. Now don't groan; "Selah" is one of those rare, unassuming spoken word tunes that privileges music as the primary focus. To prove my point, the romantic jazz set backing Sharon's soothing poetry is given an instrumental reprise as the album's closer. The percussive and bass guitar banter of "I Feel" starts as a comely light rock tune before gently progressing into a genre-free fusion of heady sounds by the time the horns are introduced into the mix. "U and Me For Days" is suggestive of the blues, but Sharon's vocals are a bit too polished and light of touch to give the tune the heft of more than an intimate groove. "Down by the H20" has a slightly dated, but fulfilling production that is familiar, and yet even it can't be nailed down completely as a smooth jazz cut with its dabbling into Maxi Priest's R&B brand of reggae-lite. Despite the many different influences and genre elements interwoven throughout this seven-track project, there are no inconsistencies or musical schizophrenia here. Selah is a very cohesive, well executed album from beginning to end. If there is a major complaint, it's that this 34 minute album-which is really an EP-is over before it's begun, leaving us wanting more.
It's not surprising that a former dance diva whose catalog includes r&b covers of Curtis Mayfield and British electronica has created a project that refuses to be pigeon-holed. What's surprising in these boastful days is how unassuming she goes about it. Vocally, lyrically, musically, Sharon never gets in her own way, always takes her time and makes listeners the focus. Instead of blaring her ample artistic "cred" from the rooftops on Selah, Sharon Musgrave generously engages her audience in an experience that isn't about her, but about warming world weary listeners' souls. Such grace deserves to be shared. Indeed, only the selfish would keep this spa treatment to themselves. So, cop a copy of Selah, light that scented candle, dim those lights, lean back and enjoy Sharon's healing music therapy. Oh, yeah, after Sharon's got you all rested and restored, don't forget to pay it forward. Tag you're it. Highly recommended.
--L. Michael Gipson