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Album Review: “P R E S S U R E” by Rochelle Jordan

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Released independently as a free download in 2011, Toronto songstress Rochelle Jordan released her debut EP, R O J O – an adventurous, multi-layered joyride showcasing promise and an equal footing in the R&B of the 90s and the future. She makes a clear step forward with her second EP, P R E S S U R E, released digitally in August 2012.

As implied by the title, P R E S S U R E underscores conflict and tension, specifically in romantic relationships. Written entirely by Jordan and intricately produced by PROTOSTAR producer KLSH, the record closes in on a specific vibe, both sonically and vocally. Her influences are obvious – the fluttery coos of Aaliyah and the slick vocal layering of Amerie’s heyday, among others. Yet, Jordan manages to fuse them into a singular style and sound that is uniquely hers throughout the record’s twelve tracks. Meanwhile, KLSH’s minimalist and atmospheric productions are approached completely with swirling synths, pulsing bass lines and menacing, snare-driven drums. This provides ample room for Jordan to explore textures and rhythmic patterns of her detailed and impassioned lyrics.

The first e-single, “Losing”, is a downbeat lament to the sacrifices made in the name of a strained relationship. Equally alluring as it is chilling, it is a tender and deeply intimate moment that very few unsigned artists are willing to display in their early musical offerings. Elsewhere, Jordan aims to please her lover on the frenetic up-tempo title track, reminisces on a past love on “Could’ve Been” and is haunted by that same former love in a new setting on “Somebody”. Elsewhere, her frustrations with insecure and dismissive men are laid out with serious bite and sass on “You Ain’t My Man” and “Too Long”. However, it is on the spare “Shotgun” where Jordan wallows in the beautiful anguish of the end of a relationship, brilliantly winding up with what is the record’s best vocal performance.

Hailing from Toronto, home of fellow artists like Drake and The Weeknd, Rochelle Jordan is a welcome addition to those following independent R&B music and is sure to delight fans with her distinct sound.

An Overview of Teena Marie

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Musician. Multi-instrumentalist. Arranger. Producer. Composer. Vocalist. Songwriter. Legend. When you think of stars that do it all, Prince usually comes to mind. There are very few people who can parallel the many accolades he’s collected since his debut in 1978. If you to decide upon a female counterpart to match Prince’s level and credits, no one else but Marie Christine Brockert, known to the world as Teena Marie, can fit the description. She was a versatile, multi-octave singer who, in addition to singing soul, R&B, and funk, also demonstrated a flair for rapping, jazz phrasing, and even scatting.

Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Teena Marie scored her first hit “I’m Just A Sucker for Your Love”, a duet with her mentor Rick James, who helmed and produced her first album, Wild and Peaceful. Rick declined the offer to produce Diana Ross in order to work with Teena, who he met when he heard her singing and playing piano one day in one of the Motown offices. Signed and released under Motown Records in 1979, the album sleeve did not feature any pictures of the singer-songwriter for fear that the fact that she was Caucasian would hinder album sales within the R&B audience. Her second album Lady T was produced by Richard Rudolph, husband of late chanteuse Minnie Ripperton, saw a release in 1980 and was a sizable hit with its lead single “Behind The Groove”. But it was her first self-written and self-produced album Irons In The Fire saw Teena wax poetically over lush strings, deep grooves and romantic mid-tempos. She further expanded on this formula for her fourth LP It Must Be Magic, which featured the hit “Square Biz” – one of her signature songs. “Square Biz” was notable for being one of the earliest songs in pop or R&B to include a rap section.

These two albums proved to be bar-raising for Teena, who would continue to handle all writing and production herself, including the horn and rhythm arrangements of her band and all backing vocals – all considered rare at the time for a female artist to accomplish.

In 1982, Teena got into a heated legal battle with Motown Records over her contract and concerns about releasing her new material. The lawsuit resulted in “The Brockert Initiative”, which made it unlawful for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing new material for that artist. In such instances, artists are able to sign and release with another label instead of being held back by a label that doesn’t support them. After her lawsuit, she signed a worldwide deal with Epic Records. Teena continued to tour and releasing music throughout the 1980s, passionately writing about love, heartbreak and her deep spirituality. Her art would imitate her life as she would soar over torch ballads like “Yes Indeed” and the show-stopping vocal performance of “Cassanova Brown”, both among other album tracks penned about her tumultuous love affair with one-time mentor Rick James.

As the “pop-synth” trend would come to dominate most music during this era, Teena decided to fuse both synthesized and organic musical styles and blend them with her rich wall of sound. Exploring deeper forrays into jazz, live percussion and congas and soft rock would define the sounds that built next four studio albums Robbery, Starchild, Emerald City and Naked to the World. After her ninth album Ivory saw dismal sales in 1990, Teena Marie went on hiatus before independently releasing her album Passion Play under her own imprint. Teena Marie gave up recording for 10 years to concentrate on bringing up her daughter, Alia Rose.

She made a well-received comeback in 2004 with La Doña followed in 2006 by Sapphire, which included two duets with Smokey Robinson, one of her primary influences. Her final album was Congo Square. All three records were lauded among critics and fans alike, praising it’s lush and throwback atmosphere while still being able to stay current and contemporary.

In 2010, Teena continued to be a headliner on the Las Vegas Strip, appearing regularly at the Las Vegas Hilton and other venues until just before her death.

She had completed her 14th CD and was also working on jazz and inspirational CDs for a future release. According to her longtime bassist and writing partner Doug Grigsby, the last song she recorded was entitled “A Lady Always Knows When To Leave”. In addition, she was in the midst of her writing her memoir. Teena Marie unfortunately passed away of natural causes in her Pasadena home on December 26, 2010.

(written in February 2011 for The Arrowhead at San Bernardino Valley College in San Bernardino, California)