QUEEN LATIFAH: Trav’lin’ Light (Label: Verve)

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QUEEN LATIFAH: Trav'lin' Light

Career-wise, this 37-year-old Newark-born star of the recent movie ‘Hairspray’ has travelled a long way in only a relatively short span of time. Twenty years ago she was a struggling Big Apple rapper who broke into the big time in 1989 with the groundbreaking album ‘All Hail The Queen.’ Quickly establishing herself as the ruling regent of distaff hip-hop, Latifah’s horizons were widened in 1991 when she appeared in the movies ‘House Party 2,’ ‘Juice’ and the Spike Lee film, ‘Jungle Fever.’ After starring in a US sitcom, ‘Living Single,’ in 1993, she caught the eye in the movie ‘Set It Off.’ By that time, her interest in hip-hop was on the back burner as movie roles came thick and fast. In 2004, Latifah released her fifth long player, ‘The Dana Owens Album,’ a collection of jazz standards that turned out to be markedly different from anything else she’d done and a world away, seemingly, from the street braggadocio of hip-hop. This excellent new oeuvre is the follow up to that revelatory offering and continues where ‘The Dana Owens Album’ left off. Latifah’s metamorphosis from rough-hewn rapper to stylish songstress is truly remarkable, evidenced by the expert way she handles classic songs like ‘I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl’ (the old Nina Simone number) and the title song (made famous by the immortal Billie Holiday). There’s a beautiful rendition of Phoebe Snow’s ‘Poetry Man’ and a superbly soulful retooling of the 10cc pop classic, ‘I’m Not In Love.’ There are also noteworthy covers of material by Smokey Robinson, the Pointer Sisters (a furiously funky ‘How Long’) and a strong version of ‘Gone Away,’ as recorded by Roberta Flack back in 1970 (it was penned, incidentally, by a mighty soul triumvirate comprising Donny Hathaway, Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield). Talking of soul luminaries, Stevie Wonder supplies some suitably plaintive harmonica on ‘Georgia Rose.’ A classy jazz-meets-soul confection.
(CW) 4/5