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Music Review: Teena Marie – Congo Square

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Lady Tee. The Ivory Queen of Soul. For over 30 years Teena Marie has defied musical labels and boundaries, crossing over to R&B like few other blue-eyed soul artists. In addition to old-school jams such as “I Need Your Loving,” “Square Biz,” and “Portuguese Love,” she collaborated with mentor Rick James to create classics such as “I'm A Sucker for Your Love” and “Fire and Desire.” Marie's latest album, Congo Square, marks her debut on the historic Stax label (now under the Concord umbrella). While songs celebrate New Orleans's jazz and blues influences, they also pay tribute to her adopted soul heritage.

Teena Marie Congo Square refers to an area of the French Quarter, and the title track most explicitly refers to its jazz and southern soul roots (also courtesy of pianist George Duke). “Black Cool” also cites the music, food, and atmosphere of the Big Easy. However, Marie seems aware of the importance of being on the Stax label as well, as she acknowledges 70s-era soul on tracks such as “Marry Me,” which recalls Deniece Williams or Stephanie Mills. While sporting a hip hop beat, “You Baby” contains some horn breaks that mimic classic Stax soul. “Milk and Honey” name-checks great artists from jazz and R&B history with a smooth assist from Marie's daughter, Rose LeBeau.

One element jumps out at the listener: Marie's voice hasn't lost any of its soul and emotion. Amazingly, she sounds just as she did when “In the Groove” and “Lovergirl” were released. If anything, Marie has continued to enrich her voice by adding jazz nuances to much of her material, such as “The Rose 'N Thorn.” Her emotional delivery effectively conveys the romantic longing of the torch ballad. “Harlem Blues” features Marie using her voice's full range and ability to smoothly integrate jazz and R&B.

Like on 2003's La Dona, Marie fares well when collaborating with R&B and hip hop artists. MC Lyte guest raps on the album opener, “The Pressure,” where Marie sings with her typical sexiness and sass. Shalamar alum and solo singer Howard Hewitt duets with her on “Lovers Lane,” a steamy track that recalls some of her earlier work with James. On the first single, “Can't Last A Day,” Faith Evans accompanies her vocals, their two voices blending beautifully. While “Soldier Boy” contains some, at times, heavy-handed lyrics paying tribute to servicemen and women, her delivery — along with old-school legend Shirley Murdock — rescue the song from having clichéd meaning.

Marie wisely includes subtle hip hop touches on many of the tracks, particularly the slowjam, “Baby I Love You.” “Ear Candy” does please the senses with its strong bass and her soulful vocals gliding over the beat. “What U Got for Me” allows Marie to use the higher end of her range, not always heard in all of her records.

At 16 self-penned tracks, Congo Square borders on being a bit overlong. Tracks such as “Ms. Coretta,” where Marie attempts commentary on history and current events, are less successful and probably could have been omitted. A slimmer album containing solid R&B (with a hip hop slant) would have showcased Marie's talent even better. However, this is minor criticism when considering the strength of most of the tracks.

On Congo Square, Marie proves to be a vital soul artist who has never stopped crossing music genres. Listening to her unchanged voice transports fans back 30 years, but also illustrates the timelessness of her style.

For more information, visit Teena Marie's official site, MySpace Music page, and YouTube channel. Samples from Congo Square can be heard at Stax's site.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Pam

    Teena is the greatest. Anytime a woman can do what she does, direct, sing, and move the way she does. She deserves a standing ovation. I saw her in Atlantic City, and she was GREAT………… Congo Square, I am going to have today.

  • KB

    Love it!!!!!! I thinks it’s better than the last two CD (which were I think were fantistic). Let’s give her a standing ovation!

  • KB

    Love it!!!!!! I think it’s better than the last two CD’s (which were I think were fantistic). Let’s give her a standing ovation!

  • marvin

    Great CD … Lady T just keeps getting better with time … it hasn’t come off my player since it was relaesed last month

  • Rory Alcalá

    Lady Tee is my favorite artist of all time! I’ve been trying to get an autographed picture of her but to no avail. She is the quintessential performer with her unique songwriting skills and delivering her sound. This latest album “Congo Square” is one of the most unique, incorporating the Lord’s Prayer in it. The mix of R&B with jazz is awesome. She sings with such emotion, sexy and sultry. Anyone know where I can get an autographed picture of her? I want one really bad! It would complete my life! And I mean that literally! She is a brilliant,talented genius who I idolize. I love the song “Romantica” the best on this cd. And I don’t think there is too much content on it. I know she has a tendency to pack her cd’s full of all her songlets but they are greatly appreciated by her loyal fans, like me. She gives you a lot for your money both in her performances and the cd’s she releases. What a woman!! Can’t get enough of her!

  • Rory Alcalá

    OOPs! The song “Romantica” is on her “Sapphire ” cd. I love the new song “Congo Square” on her new cd the most although “Black Cool” are awesome songs too!

  • Rory Alcalá

    Big Ups to whoever was responsible in sending me an autographed picture of Lady Tee. OMG! This is her best cd yet, I think and I have ALL her cd’s, like 17 or so. Thank you for for giving me an autographed picture of Lady Tee. It means the world to me!!!! Made my day!!! I’m gonna have it custom-framed.

  • http://vitarhythms.blogspot.com VitaRhythms

    Check out “The Revelation of Teena Marie” – The VitaRhythms Interview

  • JT

    Hey Teena, we met at the summer funk fest in 2005. East bay . . Im the stage manager for the sly and family stone band .(JT) you will never go out of style in my book. Your beatiful voice is one of the main reason why I still pick up the guitar and am able to dazzle folks. You continue to inspire me since 1979 . . . .I’m still lovin you !

  • Nicole Solomon

    Can’t believe she died. R.I.P. Teena Marie

  • 10 seconds

    OMG, Teena RIP thanks for all the songs and life lessons

  • Pam A.

    Lady “T” is a ICON Legend. I am so sorry to hear this sad news.
    We will always love Lady “T”. Just yesterday x-mas we were playing her music, now she’s gone home to paradise, a better place than here..God Bless and my prayers go out to Lady T’s Family.

  • Tracy

    I can’t believe Teena is gone. I Love her music, she will definitely be missed.

  • Denise Carr

    May you rest in peace Lady T, I love your music it has a lot of meaning You were my idol as I was growing up, I remember writing letters to her Fan Club wishing I knew her as a personnel friend. I will always remember you now your with god Thanks for giving us the music you did Always in my Heart

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    I too am shocked to hear of her tragic death. Thank you all for leaving your special memories and thoughts here. I’m writing a tribute, which should appear on this site very soon.

  • http://www.makenoise.ca Jams

    R.I.P.

  • Jesse

    I just can’t believe it. I went to her Mother’s Day Concert in Atlantic City on May 8 2010 and she was having problems with her microphone and she stop the music and demanded that her mike be fixed. She stated that she shouldn’t be having these problems because and i quote “I was Queen once”. What a performer, and incredible artist with joyful soul for music and poetry. My heart goes out to her daughter, family and friends. She will be missed but never forgotten. RIP LADY T!!

  • Ben

    Rest in piece vanella child

  • rosilynn

    Girl you was a vicious white woman you are,going to be miss babyi

  • Van

    Only the good die young… :(

  • phillip ghee

    Please continue the efforts to get Teena her star on Hollywood Blvd. I assumed she already had a star. When I heard the sad news of her passing, I thought I would go there to pay my respects and that is when I found out she did not have a star. We know she was a star in our hearts. She put into words and melody emotions that most of us could not even comprehend that we had.

    There is a website out there trying to get her a star, please check into it and give your support.

    P. Ghee