My first thought upon seeing the promotional shots for Leela James’ new album, “Let’s Do It Again,” was, “Where’s the ‘fro?” Though she looks beautiful with her long tresses, her big, fluffy afro was a trademark I had come to know and love. Leela’s 2005 debut album, “A Change is Gonna Come,” proved that the then-22-year-old songstress had the vocal chops (and the hair) of an old-school soul singer with the energy of the ’80s baby that she is.
Leela’s love of classic soul was obvious on her first album (even the title is borrowed from a Sam Cooke favorite), but she is putting that love on full blast with “Let’s Do It Again,” an entire album of soul covers. Recorded in just a four-day span, Leela performed all 11 tracks with her band live in the studio. Between the ad-libs, hand clapping and playful banter, you get the notion that recording the album was as fun as it was exhausting.
Not content to cover just the “standard” soul songs, Leela’s latest offering features unexpected gems like the Rolling Stones’ “Missing You” (a track sampled by Musiq a few years back), Phyllis Hyman’s “You Know How to Love Me”and Angela Bolfill’s “I Try.” The whole album is a treat, but there are standout tracks. The reggaeinfused version of Womack and Womack’s “Baby I’m Scared of You” makes you want to head to Montego Bay and dance on the beach until the sun sinks into the sea.
Leela really takes it home with her version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” Her powerful femininity lends special meaning to the line “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”
At her album release party on March 25 at New York’s S.O.B.’s, Leela not only brought the funk, but the ‘fro, too! I was so happy to see it in all of its pillowlike glory. As an afro-sporter myself, I now have something to aspire to. For over two hours, Leela rocked the mic for the eager, eclectic crowd in the cozy club. The back-up singers pulled out brooms for “The Clean-up Woman,” and Leela had some lucky concert-goers come on stage for her rendition of “Joy and Pain.”
Throughout the night, Leela sprinkled in her thoughts and observations. At one point the Houston-based singer said, “What? Ya’ll laughing at my accent? Ya’ll got one, too. What’s good, yo?” asked the singer laughingly in her best Brooklyn accent. Leela James’ “Let’s Do It Again” is available now from Shanachie Records (also the label home of Kim Burrell), and it would be a fitting addition to your collection of funk and soul.