TEENA MARIE: ‘Congo Square’ (Label: Stax)

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TEENA MARIE: 'Congo Square'

After what many commentators in the music business saw as a strange – but ultimately fruitful – two-album liaison with the hip-hop label, Cash Money Records, former Motown songstress Teena Marie recently joined the likes of Leon Ware, Nikka Costa, Angie Stone and Lalah Hathaway on the small roster at the revitalised Stax label. Her debut for Stax is without doubt the best album the former Memphis-based company has issued since its resurrection a couple of years ago. Although most of her contemporaries have fallen by the way side or bitten the dust, the 53-year-old singer/songwriter born Mary Christine Brockert continues to enjoy an amazing career longevity, having notched up a Top 10 US R&B smash recently with ‘Can’t Last A Day,’ the first single taken from ‘Congo Square.’ It’s a passionate duet featuring Faith Evans and is just one of a slew of highlights on what is a tremendous long player featuring other guest cameos from MC Lyte (on ‘The Pressure’), Howard Hewitt (on the lush romantic ballad, ‘Lover’s Lane’), keyboard maestro George Duke (on the title track), ’80s diva Shirley Murdock (on ‘Soldier’) and Marie’s teenage daughter, Rose LeBeau (on ‘Milk N’ Honey’). Arguably the best cut is left till last – a gorgeous jazz-inflected ballad co-penned with drummer Terri-Lynne Carrington called ‘The Rose N’ Thorn.’ The song features a sensuous vocal from Teena Marie, accompanied by a beautiful string arrangement by veteran Motown arranger, Paul Riser. There’s a similar jazz-tinted vibe on the lovely nocturnal slow-jam, ‘Harlem Blues,’ while the atmospheric ‘Ms. Coretta’ – a homage to Martin Luther King Jr’s wife – melds a mellow groove and a spoken word narrative to striking effect. Teena Marie produced a clutch of memorable R&B albums back in the early ’80s for Motown and I’m happy to declare that ‘Congo Square’ is right up there with them.
(CW) 4/5