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Ndegeocello: Comfort Woman
Posted: October 16,
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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