YOLANDA JOHNSON: Breathing (Label: Meta Music)

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Yolanda Johnson is a feisty, Brooklyn-born new age soul singer who grew up in a musical household – her father was a professional singer and her cousins are the Wilsons of Gap Band fame. She’s already known to adventurous soul fans via a couple of EPs but ‘Breathing’ is the lady’s first full album and it continues the work she started on those two mini releases. That’s to say, she pushes the soul boundaries to an extent that the album isn’t an easy listen… but, come on, what really great albums are? The music here could be described as Erykah Badu meets Grace Jones but that’s not really fair to any of the three ladies… the point, I guess, is that none of them want to play safe. Best maybe to make the point by referencing particular tracks. ‘Lose Control’ is a good place to start. It begins with a loose brass passage that might make you think we’re about to get a ‘Crazy In Love’ pastiche but when the vocal kicks in you know you’re not getting anything of the sort – a point reinforced by some wild sax work. Equally ‘On The Inside’ starts off like a standard Latin samba school swayer, but Yolanda soon lets you know this ain’t no Astrud Gilberto or Teena Marie song and that’s the attraction of the album. You learn to expect the unexpected… as on ‘Intervention’. It comes on as a lazy, languid, loping jazz lounge groove – suddenly transformed by a tight rap from Slum Village’s T3 while ‘Over You’ perfectly marries a retro backing track (think the slinkier parts of ‘Shaft’) with a thoroughly 21st century vocal. There’s more retro feeling on ‘When I See You’ – possibly the album’s most easily accessible song. Zipping strings and tinkling keys certainly make it the album’s prettiest cut. Elsewhere there’s grumbling synth bass lines, breathy ballads, electro instrumentation and spaced out slowies. Like I said up top, don’t expect an easy ride… but if you like your soul with a sense of adventure you’ll love this.
(BB) 4/5