Nyla (to be released September 28, 2018)
Giving birth certainly will give you a different perspective on life.
Marsha Ambrosius welcomed her daughter Nyla into the world almost two years ago, a time when civil unrest seems to swirl in our newsfeeds almost daily.
It’s a message that’s extremely prevalent in the video of her latest single, “Old Times,” where lives are shattered in imagery that conjures memories of Trayvon Martin.
Marsha has never shied from weighty topics in the past – her heartfelt video for “Far Away” might be the best example – but when she’s watching news reports of black children slain in our streets while holding her newborn in her arms, it has to hit hard.
And it has to influence her art.
Marsha has said in interviews that the uncertainty of today’s world made her long for a return to days past. She turned to the old school for healing.
That sound is very prevalent through Marsha’s third solo album, named after her daughter, naturally. And while there are throwback elements and dashes of social commentary, don’t expect a dusty, politically-charged release. It’s mostly a return to the sultry sounds that made her first two solo LPs among the best R&B projects of the past decade.
Yes, I said, DECADE. Not too many R&B albums out are touching those first two projects to this day.
Marsha’s clearly not afraid to shake things up early, bringing out the trap drums and distorted vocals for “Bottle Fulla Liquor.”
DON’T FREAK OUT Y’ALL, IT WORKS.
Marsha hasn’t sold her soul to the autotune devils. The song’s theme is simple: I’m gonna turn up instead of turning to you. She’s losing herself in the party instead of the pain, so the style switch actually aids the narrative. The second half of the song slows down to more familiar territory, making it all the more palatable.
And speaking of slowing down, Marsha’s voice has been the magic behind some of R&B’s best bedroom burners – the woman has narrated 20 years worth of conceptions – and that reputation continues with “Flood.”
“Just let the rain come on down on my window/Now we safe and sound underneath all these pillows … can you let it flood?” It’s Marsha doing what she does best – giving y’all more dependents on your tax returns.
The album picks up the pace a bit with the breezy “Luv Ya” and the addictive yet aggressive horns of “I Got It Bad.” “Let Out” is kind of the best of both those worlds – it tones down the bombastic horns of the latter but keeps the groove of the former.
The tempo slows down for the second half of the album, which gets us to Nyla’s biggest flaw – while the first half of the album was a diverse mix of sounds, the latter portion starts to blend together.
That doesn’t mean the songs aren’t solid – the remorseful “Never Be the Same” tugs at your heartstrings a bit while the revealing piano ballad “Glass” and spiteful “Scorn” bare Marsha’s imperfections. While they’re fine songs individually, they would have worked better within the context of the album with some reshuffling.
Things pick back up with the album closers “Hello Goodbye,” a solid duet with PJ Morton and “Grand Finale,” an emotional venting session that almost feels like one of R. Kelly’s spoken-word-esque tracks. Thankfully this one isn’t 20 minutes long, though.
Just as I said about Tamia’s discography a few weeks back, it’s impossible for Marsha to make a bad album. The mix of throwback arrangements and new-school production make it pretty unique among her discography. And most importantly, she really has something to say.
It’s a fitting tribute for her baby – and the future babies y’all make after listening to “Flood.”
Best tracks: “Luv Ya,” “Flood,” “Let Out”
4 stars out of 5