YahZarah – The Ballad Of Purple Saint James
FE Music: 2010
Purchase on Amazon
Could it be that with the Foreign Exchange collective, hip-hop and soul have found the new-wave Soulquarians? The comparisons are striking, but in the interest of time, we’ll save that for another conversation. What is important, is that the +FE camp has just unleashed another smashing album, this time by way of songstress YahZarah. The Ballad Of Purple Saint James is a progressive neo-soul album that is, quite frankly, far ahead of its time (and somewhat extraterrestrial).
The most striking feature of The Ballad is its musicality. Drawing from new jack swing, and 80s pop/rock/funk, the production on Yah’s album is not what one would immediately expect from a traditional neo-soul project. However, given Nicolay and Phonte’s penchant for pushing musical boundaries, perhaps this should come as no surprise. Numerous tracks recall the funkier side of r&b, with a futuristic makeover. “Cry Over You” features a guest appearance from Phonte and is a prime example of the spacey electro-soul evoked on The Ballad. The 80s funk meter gets turned up to high for “Change Your Mind”, which, if not for YahZarah, would sound every bit like it was plucked right off the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
YahZarah’s voice is certainly impressive on the poppy jam tracks such as “Why Dontcha Call Me No More”, however she shines brightest on the more sensitive tracks. And let’s make no mistake about it – Yah’s vocals are the main focus on The Ballad. Rather than using her voice to simply convey powerful lyrics, YahZarah intertwines her lofty vocals into the musical fabric, creating the sense that her voice is effectively another instrument. So when she sings “ I wish that I could come back as a flower” on the delicate “Come Back As A Flower,” it’s less about what she’s singing and more about the way she sings it.
The Ballad Of Purple Saint James takes giant leaps musically, forging ahead on the trails set by artists such as Platinum Pied Pipers and J*DaVeY. YahZarah delivers the performance that everyone knew she was capable of after hearing her prior solo work and her work with Erkyah Badu, Nicolay and The Foreign Exchange. YahZarah is deliberate, yet every bit as free and boundless as one can be. And for that, The Ballad Of Purple Saint James is not just a supreme album, but a potential landmark in the progression of soul music.