Marsha Ambrosius is an English woman but you only realize that when she speaks. At Irving Plaza last night, her sexually overloaded , hard, sweet r&b was all American till she interrupted the proceedings to mention she was having a jolly good time. The audience laughed, they were with her all the way.
But before they got to follow Marsha they had to sift through Melanie Fiona, a West Indian, soul singer who often preached to women and dragged her 45 minutes with by rote black feminism anti-male crap I've been hearing since at least Mary J. back in 1994. The set reached a nadir with a terrible, and bewildering cover of "Empire State Of Mind". I could feel the audience hissing. Melanie never recovered despite a coupla pretty good songs, especially "Change The Record".a little further in the set, she nearly got herself booed off stage during a quasi-Calypso number. Melania has a good set of lungs and an OK catalogue of songs but she is a blabbermouth and a bore.
Marsha grabbed hold of this set of highly charged r&b classics in waiting from her recently released "Late Nights And early Mornings" (maybe my fave album of the year, which is why I'm here) . Early on Marsha played her hit single "Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player)", even better than its title suggests, and despite the use of back up tapes… wait, or was it the audience singing along? Yup, the audience so on its game it was singing on the back beat! Marsha wailed from a whisper to scream, matching intensity with intensity. So WITH THE HELP OF THE AUDIENCE, she was rivitting.
This, despite the former member of Floetry having written and sung with every one from Jamie Foxx to Styles P to The Game to Busta rhymes is not a hip hop gal. This is smooth r&b for a moment before it heads for the heat, a female Prince who moans in pleasure and desire and who finds love in sex as much as in the emotional overdrive of romantic love behind the keyboards on "With You". This is so intensely passionate, it seeps under your skin, she ululates her passion, reaches as high she can go before moaning in desire. The concert highlight.
Things were running smooth and sultry, the sisters were with her, the brothers, a lot of us, representing but for some reason she went into a "deal with your own shit" about dating married guys. I don't know why she did it. The audience didn't mind it but it put me to sleep. It was followed by a ridiiculous 20 minutes of covers which the audience adored and I thought was absolutely ridiculous: "H To The Izzo"??? Why????
Back to the album for the last half hour and she is just fine. No "Sour Time" (her Portishead cover) but a great "Tears" Lotsa covers (was that Rufus – A.D. Amorosi from the Philadelphia Enquirer said so.
Marsha encores with "Lose Myself" -in love, is where she is what she is lost in. It's all love and, as Greg Tate notes in this weeks Village Voice, she has lost her bloody mindedness in the wetlands of desire.
So a good set, she shoulda trusted her material, the audience knew it well (the album entered the charts at # 2) and loved her completely, but well worth catching nevertheless. The album is a masterpiece of sorts. Blows the new Jennifer Hudson away. And it ain't r&b in hip hop drag which is maybe why it ain't crossing over, still a woman whose material is so great even Michael Jackson covered her, on "Butterfly" -another highlight of tonight's show, doesn't have to kowtow to the hip hop guideline even as she writes for it.
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