Seven original tracks and four covers move through the many facets of being in love and being burned by love on Native Land by singer/songwriter Gwen Hughes. Combining elements of R&B/soul, blues, smooth jazz, and Motown-style grooves, she delivers material that is lyrically poignant and musically bridges multiple genres. Accompanied by a team of prolific musicians, Hughes proves herself to be an emotive vocalist and a versatile songwriter.
Hughes’ cover of Carlene Carter’s country hit “I Fell in Love” is performed with a vibrant bounce as Wes Funderburk’s bubbly trombone circles around the toe-tapping cadence of the ragtime-fringed bass grooves and frolicking drum beats. Showing a flare for being fun and flirty, Hughes’ lighthearted side is brought to the forefront as the recording dives into “These Years” strapped in the traipsing tempo of Steve Cunningham’s perky ukulele haloed in a twinkling clarinet and a trickle of bell chimes played by Hughes.
The bluesy hue of the guitar chords lacing “In Our Hearts” elevates the deep breathy inflections of Hughes’ vocals as she proclaims, “Feeling one thing/Saying something else/Not quite meeting you half way/Ain’t this just what we talked about, baby/When we said we’d never live without/Talking it over/Speaking our minds/Always trying to find what’s in our hearts.”
Slow and mellow, “Watch the Moon” pervades a torchlight glisten adorned in finger-snapping beats and softly strummed guitar chords which are also echoed through “Lyin’ Eyes” and which are caressed by Hughes’ sensual vocal strokes. The recording indulges in Motown-style grooves through “The Other Side of Lonely” and warm up to a smooth jazz shimmer along “Fragile Faith,” then flow into a vamp of bluesy piano keys across “You on My Mind” that are accentuated by a Latin rhythm in the undertow.
The mellow sonorous of “Olive Tree” is driven by softly glinting guitar riffs that emanate a spiritual aura along “I Take Your Hand,” which is kindled by the downy ethers of the piano keys. The cruising tempo of “This Is a Love Song” has a sedate drift as the buoyant propulsion of Hughes’ vocals purr, “This is a love song/To tell you you’re unbelievable/This is a love song/I feel my heart can beat again … You got heart like no one else/I just can’t keep it to myself.”
Native Land from Gwen Hughes embraces multiple genres with lyrical content that illuminates the many facets of being in love and being burned by it. She captures the ups and downs of her passage through life with authentic honesty, forgiveness, and rejoice for the outcome. The recording is a testament to the human will to cope with the bad and cherish the good.
Gwen Hughes – lead vocals, piano, bell chimes, and background vocals; Steve Cunningham – lap steel, ukulele, background vocals, acoustic and electric guitars; Khari Simmons – electric bass and background vocals; Ramon Pooser – upright bass and background vocals; Mike Hinton – drums, cajon, and background vocals; Forrest Robinson – drums; Colin Agnew – percussion; Jez Graham – piano; Julius Speed – keyboards; Martin Kearns – Hammond B3 organ; Mace Hibbard – clarinet, flute, and saxophones; Joe Gransden – trumpet; Wes Funderburk – trombone, horn arrangements, and background vocals; additional vocals – Terence Downs, Chanda McKnight, Diane Dunett, and Marlon Patton
“I Fell in Love,” “These Years,” “In Our Hearts,” “Watch the Moon,” “The Other Side of Lonely,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “You on My Mind,” “Fragile Faith,” “This Is a Love Song,” “Olive Tree,” “I Take Your Hand”