At first glance, just the song selection on this new all-covers album looks like a dope mix-tape of classic throwback ’80s and ’90s jams. But anyone familiar with Meshell Ndegeocello’s style and idiosyncratic take on neo-soul, R&B and music in general, knows she is going to take the listeners on a unique journey and throw them surprising curves all along the way. And they are all refreshing and amazing.
Things get off to a breezy and energetic star with an upbeat, funky and psychedelic take on Lisa Lisa’s classic “I Wonder If I Take You Home” and end with an abstract electro version of Sade’s “Smooth Operator.” A lot of the songs covered came from an era when drum machines and synthesizers ruled the day. So hearing these songs with fully fleshed-out organic instrumentation and in sometimes radically different sonic contexts gives a lot of the songs a different vibe as well as a lot of depth.
Slow jams like Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day” and The System’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove” become dreamy, hypnotic and silken soundscapes in Ndegeocello’s capable hands. Her somber take on Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” is beautiful and heartbreaking.
With some brilliant acoustic guitar and spare piano work, Ndegeocello transforms iconic hits like TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” Ralph Tresvant’s “Sensitivity” and Force MD’s “Tender Love” into meditative, sometimes quirky and folk-inspired bluesy numbers, that are every bit as captivating as the originals, if not more.
Meshell Ndegeocello continues to deliver thought-provoking and provocative albums that challenge and push the envelope when it comes to style and musical genres. “Ventriloquism” definitely ranks as an essential listen for fans of Ndegeocello as well as fans of the artists she covers. n
- Larry Nichols
Cover story and interview