One Track Mind: Me'Shell Ndegéocello, "Dirty World" (2011)

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Though she doesn’t make radio hits anymore, Me’Shell Ndegéocello just gets more interesting as her focus gets ever sharper. 2009’s Devil’s Halo was one of the very best albums in the pop realm for that year (something I unfortunately didn’t discover until 2010), but last month this genre busting singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist dropped a new one, Weather. Like the prior record, she primarily dwells on themes of relationships, in a fragile/provocative dichotomy and while her music rarely bites hard, it always feels like it’s about to from the tension, anger or despair that bubbles just underneath the surface. That doesn’t describe just the lyrics, but the music, too. Weather can be viewed as an extension of Halo, and certainly, she carries over a lot, including her base four piece band (with keyboardist Keefus Ciancia, drummer Deantoni Parks, guitarist Chris Bruce). But here, she’s slowed down some more from what was already a record full of soft-to-mid-tempo numbers. Weather is marginally sparser, atmospheric, and in many spots, folkier, thus keeping its charms largely hidden from all but the patient listener.

Well, not entirely. “Dirty World,” the advance track, was probably culled from the album early because the charms are more upfront. That begins with Ndegéocello’s unforgettably funky circular bass line. Singing in her higher, sweeter Sade-like breathy delivery, her words float over a song that alternates between dry funk and echoing alt-rock. She takes a sinister turn when she sneers “kick and scream and watch ’em burn,” sounding vaguely threatening but never brutally so. Like the rest of the album, “Dirty World” has a pretty minimal arrangement but that economy makes the song’s few facets—like that bass line, for instance—capture your attention. It’s only about three minute long and the lyrics don’t say much more than that, but nothing more needs to be said or played. Me’Shell Ndegéocello has been around around the block a few times and she knows how to lay out a complex bundle of emotions without overdoing it.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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