Atlanta Millionaires Club (Secretly Canadian/Inertia)
Is it fusion if it’s always been part of your vocabulary? Your background and foreground?
When the southern studios like Stax, Fame, Muscle Shoals and American – and before them, Sun – merged the sounds of country and gospel, rhythm & blues and rock, they weren’t thinking fusion; that’s just the music they, black and white, grew up surrounded by and ingesting.
The back and forth from country to soul was especially strong, as anyone from Ray Charles to Bobbie Gentry could testify: it was a natural fit in the South of church and a state of sin. But really, everything can be a natural fit if it’s what you’ve always known
So for 21-year-old Atlanta, Georgia, songwriter and photographer Faye Webster to expand the more straight down the line alterna-country of her earlier work by incorporating modern R&B and hip hop into album number three is not really a jump into the unknown. It feels a natural fit.
Atlanta rapper, Father, eases into Flowers, which has the astral floating of recent work from Solange, his languid delivery not so much punctuating the feathery Webster vocals as sliding through them. Meanwhile in Come To Atlanta, there’s more a sense of the sensual neo-soul glide of a Jill Scott: the flute airy, the bass liquid, the trumpet to the point, the drums leaning to jazz, and Webster almost hushed.
In truth though, for the bulk of the album the R&B is more subtly – or maybe that should be more widely – integrated; the most prominent aspect of the record a deep well of that country soul mentioned earlier. With country not at all the silent partner as the album’s opening notes in Room Temperature, make clear with pedal steel giving us some happy weeping.
As the moves bubbling away inside the simmer of Pigeon show, Memphis and Nashville as well as Atlanta comes through everywhere. Take Right Side Of My Neck for example (which repeats the obsessive/wanting line “the right side of my neck still smells like you”). Webster’s band occupies the space with an easy groove that is part humid afternoon and part close-quarters dancing, the electric piano sprinkling itself over a rhythm section that does more with a nod than others might with a full body. And Pigeon .
Or maybe Jonny (which has a reprise five tracks later) where the bass is deeply imbedded and the saxophones are like the Pips to Webster’s Gladys Knight, and Kingston, which stretches out like a body in the sun, the glancing guitar a puff of breeze even gentler than Webster’s singing, and the saxophone an invitation to some ultimate yacht rock party.
Webster’s singing, hardly intrusive mostly, sometimes is so understated that it’s as if she’s walking to the back door as you enter the front. More of it would be better, the songs likely to benefit from a bit more punch upwards than her indoor voice. But in fairness it lingers very pleasantly.
Even better, when you tune in you’ll hear a brand of low-key humour and directness that pays off even in the glumness of unwanted singledom.
“I was sitting here last year the same time ago, still wearing the same thing/These aren’t even my clothes, I just don’t change that much,” Webster sings in Room Temperature, adding, with more equivocation than the words suggest. “I should get out more.”
Yeah, maybe, but staying in has given us this album and that’s not doing too badly.