It’s been a long four years since Angela Johnson’s last solo album, the acclaimed ‘It’s Personal’, but already critics and reviewers are calling this new one her best work yet. I’ll need a few more spins to make that sweeping commitment, but I’d certainly start by saying that on ‘Naturally Me’, the ex Cooly’s Hot Box girl sounds much more mature while her songs show a new breadth, revealing her ideas on a variety of topics. Apart from examining the reality of relationships, Angela also touches on social injustice, motherhood and politics and also finds time to offer a committed homage to one of her soul heroines – Teena Marie.
That homage comes via a clearly deeply–felt cover of the late diva’s ‘Déjà Vu’. This version is totally respectful. Starting low key, it builds and builds, and like Ms Marie, Angela ends up totally baring her soul. It’s a 2014 soul gem; as is the Hi-flavoured ‘I Don’t Mind’ – a lovely, easy soul roller. The tune, though, that’s getting the radio attention is the duet with Raul Midon, ‘I Promise M.O.N.E.Y.’ It’s another great soul cut with lyrics that realistically look at the pressure money (or more specifically lack of it) can put on a relationship. Midon adds sweet acoustic guitar here too.
One track that sadly won’t get too much radio play is the album’s most sombre and, I think, most important song – ‘Black Boy Lullaby’. This one examines the sad Trayvon Martin affair. You’ll remember that Trayvon was the 17-year-old unarmed African American teenager from Miami Gardens, Florida who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman was brought to trial but eventually acquitted. Ms Johnson explores the issues sensitively and with all due passion… proper soul music, if you would.
Elsewhere of note, well ‘Handz’ is a lovely light confection while ‘Music’s My Religion’ is an instrumental cut that evokes the spirit of old time Gospel. Here, Angela’s helped out by up and coming guitarist Wes Mingus.
Yes, easy to hear why plenty of people are calling ‘Naturally Me’ Angela Johnson’s best ever.