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Comfort Zone

 

Meshell Ndegeocello: Comfort Woman

Maverick, 2003

Rating: 4.3

 

 

Posted: October 16, 2003

By Laurence Station

Having vented her spleen regarding social and political ills out on Dead Nigga Boulevard, Meshell Ndegeocello retreats indoors for her follow-up to last year's intricate, eclectic and often incendiary Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape. Comfort Woman is Ndegeocello's quiet album, her sanctuary from causes and concerns beyond that of the lover she made the album for. Unlike the extremely personal, at times wrenching, Bitter, Comfort Woman finds Ndegeocello (momentarily, at least) at peace with her personal space and love life. Those looking for the confrontational, militant, and intense-to-the-point-of-spontaneous combustion Ndegeocello will have to look elsewhere. This is a chill-out record, and in its musical and thematic consistency, it ranks among the artist's best work.

With all due respect to Gram Parsons (originator of Cosmic American Music), Comfort Woman is Cosmic Meshell Music. From the spacey production mixes to song titles like "Andromeda & The Milky Way," Comfort Woman inhabits a pure universe, one where Love prevails and there's no such thing as heartbreak, strife or regret. There are three "Love Songs," and each plays off of a different aspect of being, falling or reveling in love. The first is warm and sensuous ("Stir it up / Move your body nice and slow"), the second simplistic and childlike ("We can fly / Butterflies / Come with me"), and the third earnest and spiritual ("No need for doubt / You ease my fears / You open my heart"). Elsewhere, the "Get Up, Stand Up" Bob Marley tribute "Fellowship" celebrates forgiveness via love; it and "Good Intentions," with its ultra-smooth flow and "you're my shelter" hook, help to successfully unify the album's theme of salvation through companionship.

The real trick for Ndegeocello is sidestepping an overly precious, cloying display of emotion (certainly a characteristic anyone would have been hard-pressed to claim, based on her overall body of work). But she manages to gush with happiness while still maintaining a clear focus on her craft, thanks to the unwavering integrity she brings to her lyrical phrasing and musical arrangements (capably aided once again by co-producer/guitarist Allen Cato). On the funky, trippy "Come Smoke My Herb," Ndegeocello deftly segues from a peaceable happy space ("Be simple like the flowers") to smoothly executed (but no less stinging) invective ("The true beasts are those who believe in creation / Without mother, womb or birth") without once losing the beat or focus of the song.

"Liliquoi Moon" is the standout track here, as well as the most personal. Up until its arrival halfway through the album, Ndegeocello has stridently avoided specific details about the lover to whom the album is dedicated and steered clear of recalling past events. But here, she lets fly with the some of her most private lyrics to date: "Daddy's just the blood in my veins / Shadows in my mind / As I'd watch my mama drown in her tears / He'd say 'I can't promise you Love / And I can't promise you me.'" The cautious, moodily fatalistic tone culminates in an explosive guitar solo by blues rocker Doyle Bramhall II, perfectly encapsulating the bottled-up emotions bubbling over in a powerfully cathartic and concentrated manner. Clearly, Ndegeocello's good place in her present life has allowed her to (even if only briefly) reconcile a painful event from her past. It's a crucial track, though, because it prevents Comfort Woman from becoming a far-too-generic paean to love without any particulars to ground it in a tangible, believable reality.

The one fault that one could argue concerning Comfort Woman is a lack of visceral punch, but that would be missing the point. As Ndegeocello states on "Thankful," she has "[Laid her] burden down." But it's also obvious that this is but a brief respite before the forthright, impassioned artist sets out into the world again, a plentitude of concerns weighing her down, and continues her musical struggle for tolerance, acceptance and freedom. Comfort Woman, then, is her well-earned, imminently listenable time out.

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 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
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