Comfort Woman

by: Meshell Ndegeocello

To get immediately to the point, if Meshell Ndegeocello's Comfort Woman isn't regarded as one of the finest contemporary soul albums of 2003, then those who review music for a living had better get eardrum transplants and a transfusion of blood to get rid of the sawdust, or quit to sell used cars, work in a fast-food establishment, or pump gas. The marketplace is tricky, but if this disc doesn't sell, then Madonna needs to fire her marketing department at Maverick. Comfort Woman is a deeply sensual album, sexy as hell and drenched with lush, richly textured bass grooves that bubble under warmly and luxuriantly in a series of songs that may not be all that divergent in tempo, but don't have to be either. This is late-night music, where the sound of a bass doesn't so much pop as it rumbles in the lower spine, looking for release. Make no mistake on Comfort Woman, space is the place and that place is reached via two vehicles, a perfect commingling of the spirits of dub reggae and mid-'70s soul and groove jazz. Think, perhaps, of David Sancious and Teena Marie as bandmates with Sly & Robbie in the rhythm section, Jimi Hendrix's "Rainy Day, Dream Away" as a music model, and Sade as vocalist -- you get the idea. The opening track, "Love Song," begins with a spacy bassline, rumbling in the lower register soft enough to ease its way into a song yet tough enough that it won't let the listener go. With a B-3 shimmering in the background, Ndegeocello begins to sing, so s-l-o-o-o-o-o-w-l-y: "If you want me, baby, just call/Let me kiss your body/Fill you with love/Let me feed your body/Feed it with love/I can't sleep...this is love/This is how I love you...." She croons with a breathy Smokey Robinson coo. On "Come Smoke My Herb," you can hear traces of both Shuggie Otis' and the Brothers Johnson's ballads infused with the brazen promise of Joni Mitchell and Gregory Isaacs meeting in bliss to swing and sway under a dubwise moon. Speaking of moons, "Liliquoi Moon" features guest guitarist Oren Bloedow, who adds his tonal dexterity to a soulfully psychedelic mix of woven acoustic guitars, a lullaby melody, and life-affirming lyrics until the end when Doyle Bramhall goes into overdrive in his solo, transforming the tune into a shape-shifting poltergeist of a track. Bramhall also lends his axe to "Love Song #3," which was truly inspired by Hendrixian grace and elegance à la Electric Ladyland. "Love Song # 2" and "Andromeda & the Milky Way" are sex beat tracks, music with a slow walking tiger in the hips as bass and keyboards stride out, loping, then halting and curling around the listener like smoke. Fact of the matter is, Comfort Woman is one of the most forward-thinking records to come out of contemporary soul in well over a decade. It's possible to remember when Prince made music as fine, sensual, and spiritual as this, but it's a struggle. This is Ndegeocello's finest moment on record thus far, and is as good as it gets in the field. ~ Thom Jurek

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