N’DAMBI: Pink Elephant (Label: Stax)

N'DAMBI: Pink Elephant

N’Dambi (Chonita Gilbert to her family and friends) has long been a favourite amongst knowing modern soulsters. The onetime Erykah Badu backing singer has already released three solo albums – all yielding a number of great cuts, but with ‘Pink Elephant’ – her debut for the rejuvenated Stax label – she’s come up with her most consistent set to date and, what’s more, she’s finally found her true soul voice. Gone are the nu/neo soul whispers and (maybe inspired by producer Leon Sylvers III) she’s jettisoned that genre’s off the wall vagueness in favour of the direct approach. The album and the lady’s whole approach are immediate and totally accessible. Indeed ‘Pink Elephant’ is an album in the true Stax tradition – simple and honest and the more soulful for that. ‘Nobody Jones’ has already (rightly) been acknowledged as the album’s big tune and indeed it sums up the feel of the whole set. It’s crisp and very classy and Ms. Gilbert handles the storyline lyric perfectly. The song tells the story of a young girl’s dream of stardom and the idea that just believing will get you there. N’Dambi, from experience, of course, knows differently and the vocal betrays that knowledge. I highlight the song’s lyrics/message because that’s the way of the collection. Throughout the album the songs’ storylines are a little different to your average soul set. They have a feisty maturity and an inner strength that perfectly suits the singer’s deep contralto. ‘L. I. E.’, for instance, deals with male fantasies, ‘Daisy Chain’ is about infidelity and the inevitable disappointments while the lugubrious – almost churchy – ‘Ooo Baby’ has an element of the stalker about it. That said you may think that ‘Pink Elephant’ is a heavy set … it isn’t; it has some wonderful “up” moments – notably the joyous ‘Mind Blowin’ – a lovely summery moment. Elsewhere, ‘The World Is A Beat’ has a contemporary R&B feel to it. It’s a kind of street rumble – appropriate to the title, though, oddly, the melody reminds me of something by Sheryl Crow! ‘What It Takes’ is quirky too, though ‘Imitator’ and ‘Free Fallin’ are much looser – almost jazzy and add real variety. You also get a lovely shuffle in ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ (and an a-capella version too) along with a dance mix of ‘The World Is A Beat’. There’s no doubt that ‘Pink Elephant’ is a good soul album that will appeal across the soul spectrum. My only reservation is about its belated release in Europe. The LP’s been around for some time now and I’d have thought that N’Dambi fans who wanted it will already have it. Maybe the Stax/Concord execs are hoping to find the lady loads of new devotees – let’s hope so. ‘Pink Elephant’ deserves a big audience.
(BB) 4/5