I heard that the singer Ledisi would be performing live a few towns over and took my first plunge. Her recordings and songwriting have always mesmerized me. Indeed, she inspires good will from music lovers, especially those into Neo Soul, the family of popular styles that have been developing since the mid-1990s.
Ledisi is a standout. “I aint’ scared of ya’ll,” she joked and challenged when the crowd didn’t show her enough love. But it wasn’t long before we were under her spell and in the palm of hand. Ledisi is vocally gifted with range, clarity, power, stank-heavy soulfulness, and a diva-full, fearless melodic sense. She packs a virtual arsenal of pyrotechnics: soaring bel canto from her opera training, octave jumping, intervallic slipping and sliding, grunts, pants, field hollers, squalls, spot on intonation—and that’s just the beginning. Plus Lady Dyno-mite represents—she can really put on a show for the people as she camel struts in high heels around the mic or across the stage. The slinky micro mini outfit could barely contain the shimmy-shaking, boogaloo-ing body animating it. Ledisi exudes an attractive charisma, and she knows exactly what to do with all the attention.
Listening to her collected work is an enjoyable experience. I’ve dug her material because it’s ambitious and less formulaic than a lot of stuff that’s out there and popular on the radio. Harmonically rich, her recordings are organized around classic pop song forms void of the repetitive loops of more hip-hop oriented records. She exploits this sonic terrain with big ears and a virtuosity derived from her studies of Western art music, gospel, blues, and jazz.
To really appreciate her work, you must see her live. It was clear to this listener that the radio length songs filling her records only provide a glimpse of the full range of her artistry. On stage and in front of her polished D.C. based band at the Keswick Theater, I realized that a record simply couldn’t contain all the musicality with which she is gifted and that she shares so earnestly. Check her out when she’s singing near you. You won’t be disappointed.