MAYSA: ‘Metamorphosis’ (Label: Expansion, Shanachie)

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MAYSA: 'Metamorphosis'

After a couple of covers albums for US indie label Shanachie (2006’s ‘Sweet Classic Soul’ and 2007’s ‘Feel The Fire’) it comes as something of a relief to this writer that sometime Incognito songbird Maysa Leak has opted for a different approach this time around. Don’t get me wrong – there was nothing inherently wrong with her previous two albums: in fact, the satin-voiced Baltimore chanteuse did a fine job putting a fresh spin on vintage classics from the soul genre. However, more of the same would arguably have been indicative of artistic bankruptcy and creative complacency. Thankfully, though, on this her seventh long player, Maysa’s jettisoned the covers template that the Shanachie label has adhered to so doggedly at times – not just with Maysa but other artists too – and delivered a fine set of fresh-hewn material. Interestingly, Expansion’s UK configuration of the album differs quite radically from the Stateside domestic release on Shanachie – not only are the majority of the tracks sequenced in a different order but a brace of bonus cuts have also been appended (gorgeous versions of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Can’t Help It’ and ‘All I Do,’ which, ironically, are culled from the former Wonderlove singer’s previous covers albums). In all honesty, I don’t think the track-tinkering fundamentally affects the listener’s perception of the album – it certainly didn’t influence mine. In fact, even if the record company had taken the trouble to employ a computer programme to arrange the tracks randomly, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome: ‘Metamorphosis’ is a splendid album whichever way you listen to it. As with Maysa’s previous efforts in recent times, the production is sympathetically handled by Rex Rideout and Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis. The killer cut is ‘Simpatico,’ a sublime piece of smooth soul dominated by Maysa’s trademark opulent vocal. It’s closely followed by ‘Higher Love,’ a lovely jazz-infused track with a pronounced Brazilian feel – it features guitarist Nick Colionne (who also turns up on a tribute to Incognito’s Bluey Maunick called ‘Let’s Figure It All Out’) and renowned smooth jazz flautist, Najee, who also graces ‘Destiny,’ the opening cut on the UK version. Other highlights include the gentle ballad, ‘Grateful,’ the more strident ‘I Need A Man,’ ‘Never Really Ever,’ the mellow ‘Take Me Away’ – which references Jean Carn’s ‘Don’t Let It Go To Your Head’ – and the Angela Johnson-penned ‘Happy Feelings.’ The closing cut, finds Maysa joining forces with hip-hop/dance act, Global Noize, for ‘A Conversation With The Universe,’ a jaunty club cut that finds Maysa scatting over a loping, hypnotic, tropical-flavoured groove. A fabulous album then – just what we’ve come to expect from Maysa Leak, the pre-eminent soul singer of her generation.
(CW) 4/5