ASHANTI MUNIR: Balance (Label: Groove Allegiance Records)

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Ashanti Munir hails from Brockton, Massachusetts, and she makes a decent living playing the New England live circuit. In her time she’s fronted bands like Umoja and Black Sole and how lucky they must have considered themselves to be fronted by lady with a fine, assertive true soul voice. Ashanti cites her main influences as Regina Belle, Gladys Knight and Aretha – and they’re not bad role models are they? Now I’m not suggesting that ‘Balance’ rivals any of the aforementioned trio’s best, but this nine tracker is a very fine indie soul album that demands investigation. There are a number of reasons for this. First, there’s the lady’s already-alluded-to lovely voice; then, for an indie set, there’s been no skimping on the production – most of the instrumentation is live – and it shows; thirdly, unlike many indie soul sets, this one’s free from self-indulgence – every song on ‘Balance’ is a good ‘un and at just nine cuts the length’s just right. Collectively the set gets straight to the point and, more, it offers real variety. Modern room dancers are already picking up on ‘I’m Staying Home Tonight’ – possibly the crispest dancer of the year so far. With a pedigree that comes from Drizabone through Koffee Brown, it’s one of those feel good, weekend, good time songs that you’ll miss at your peril. The Boney James tune ‘Follow Your Heart’ and the Wilton Felder-flavoured title cut offer more fuel for the feet, but both are a tad more intricate than the forceful ‘I’m Staying Home Tonight’. However, hear Ms Munir’s lovely and warm voice to best effect on ‘Honestly I Do’. This one’s a gentle, acoustic, harmonica-led tune and without the clutter the beauty of that vocal shines through. Elsewhere, ‘Lovers And Friends’ is a shifting beater with a lovely piano break while ‘Back Pearl’ is a gritty message song, with its own in built optimism – it comes in two versions, with the smooth jazz tweak just shading it. That one closes what is a rather fine, indie soul set that is free of many of the limiting factors inherent in such projects – investigation encouraged. For more details go to
(BB) 4/5