From the very first track on her 2005 debut album Leela James has captured the gritty, emotion-drenched essence of artists like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Mavis Staples, Marvin Gaye and has made it her mission to bring it all back - pushing the music forward with a fresh, contemporary perspective that remains faithful to the music's deep and powerful roots.
Of Leela James' Stax Records debut My Soul, she explains, "the title of the album pretty much says it all. I just wanted to go into the studio and do what moved me at the time, and not think about it too much or not allow it to be something that was too planned. That's what great soul music has always been about from the very beginning - something very raw, very authentic and very true."
The first single off My Soul is "Tell Me You Love Me," a track that James co-wrote with Andrea Martin and Gordon Williams. The track was produced by rap and hip-hop producer Gerrard Baker (Toni Braxton, Billy Crawford, Masta Ace), who deftly inserts a sample of James riffing on a line from "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," the classic ballad made popular among soul audiences by the Manhattans in 1978.
Other noteworthy tracks on My Soul include the churning opener, "Ain't New To This" (also produced by Baker), a proud and defiant declaration of survival in the minefield known as the music business; and the bouncy "Party All Night," penned by James and produced by Carl "Chucky" Thompson, who previously worked with Leela on 2005's Change Is Gonna Come. Other notable producers on that debut record were Kanye West and Commissioner Gordon among others.
Thompson also handled the production of "Mr. Incredible, Ms. Unforgettable," a sultry duet between James and vocalist Raheem DeVaughn. While James may have been surrounded by talent in the making of My Soul, the record is ultimately her personal statement - not just about the music's rich past but about its present and its future as well. Her arrival at Stax may position her among legends, but she's well aware that she still has much to do and say.
Stream "Tell Me You Love Me"
Mr. Incredible - Ms. Unforgettable (featuring Raheem DeVaughn)
Let It Roll