Seela – Cool
While the CD art appears tacky & retro, it does have charm. Personally, after listening to Seela’s 6th LP (Cool – drops July 24th – Independent) I would’ve presented her in an entirely different more eye-popping package.
Out of the gate, Seela has a bright pop voice. Supported by a lo-fi bluesy tone with cocktail-jazz possibilities. It’s compelling & I suspected that the music was going to be better than the CD art. I was right. Never judge a book by its cover. I just didn’t think it would proceed as it did.
Lyrically it starts off fairly juvenile, cliched & commercial. Maybe that’s the hook. The bait & switch. It borders on the 60s girl-group. The opener “Prize,” has pop sensibility with soulfulness. It’s like chocolate cake that’s no good for you but it tastes good. But pastries were to come.
Seela has a big band with many proficient musicians. She doesn’t effectively latch on to any genre with fervor. Funk? Soul? Rock? Jazz? Blues? None. She throws them all into a pot & stirs vigorously. Then opts for a tight melodic groove. It cuts to the chase, goes for the feet & heart simultaneously.
From lightweight to another confectionary well-arranged tune. “Shine” & Seela has a smoky attractive voice that glides between the Steve Cropper type guitar licks of Andrew Casile. Seela (acoustic guitar/keys) is also joined by Jon Greene (drums), & Andrew Pressman (bass). As the LP progresses it grows heavier & lyrically artistic. Every now & then the sweetness takes a back seat.
“When the World,” then comes to the surface soulful, serious, dynamic. Seela is no longer a Donna Summer cum Brenda Holloway chanteuse. Seela’s like a chrysalis & emerges into a Joan Armatrading-Tracy Chapman vocalist. And she cooks.
This is a great song even with retro wah-wah guitar licks. I believed Seela would come off as a good vocalist but with a limited range. I was wrong. She turns in powerfully expressive cuts. “Hiding Place,” is a stunner. Well-recorded & with excellent separation. She has something to say: “In the lantern light I saw bloody soldiers, I saw full-grown men cry like newborn babies…” This isn’t your mother’s pop singer. This throbs with popish glee but sends a message more powerful than any Liberal 60s folk singer ever could. Ballsy without being offensive.
Many tracks shape into little classics. As if she knows the music needs to be more than just entertainment. A 20+ year career — by track 7 the pop confectionary, clichés & commercial candy have evaporated. Singer becomes a true artist.
“Before It Began,” — beautiful. With “Build a House,” Seela borders on Cassandra Wilson jazzy. “Bad at Good,” shimmers. “His Final Performance,” worth the price of the CD alone. It’s masterful. Great songwriting. The lead guitar accompaniment to Seela’s vocal zeal is exceptional.
This was a surprise. I like surprises. The 49-minute CD was produced by Seela & available at Bandcamp & https://iamseela.com/