ME'SHELL NDEGÉOCELLO — Ventriloquism (review)

ME'SHELL NDEGÉOCELLO — Ventriloquism album cover Album · 2018 · Jazz Related Pop/Art Song/Folk Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
js
At first glance its fairly obvious that Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album “Ventriloquism”, is a set of cover tunes, but these versions are far more than mere copies, instead, Meshell and her quartet transform each of these songs into something much more than what they were originally. The 80s are often maligned as a musically plastic decade, and there is some truth to that, but listening to how Meshell has taken a handful of mostly lackluster 80s corporate pop tunes and turned them into something deep reveals that there is some gold hidden within this seemingly musical muck. This is an excellent album anyway you look at it, but when you consider what this material sounded like before Ndegeocello transformed everything, it makes “Ventriloquism” into something truly inspired. These pop/RnB songs were the soundtrack of Meshell’s youth, which helps explain why these are the songs she would choose to work with in the first place.

Apparently Meshell’s band spent some time listening to Neil Young’s lonesome and world weary “Harvest” while recording this, and that lowdown country flavor comes through as many of the tracks open with simple finger picking folk/blues guitar, the complete opposite sound that these songs had back in the 80s. Once the tracks get rolling though, guitarist Chris Bruce and keyboardist Jebin Bruni start weaving layers of soft psychedelic sounds that give these songs a pleasant hallucinatory drift. The salient feature are the tempos, all of them quite slow in a very mesmerizing way. Kudos to Meshell that she didn’t break this mood with any ‘uptempo’ numbers, as such a move would have surely hurt the thorough integrity of this art pop masterpiece. Listening to the persistent down-tempo mood of this album may remind some of Roxy Music’s “Flesh and Blood”, on which they also took hot blooded hits like “In the Midnight Hour” and “Eight Miles High”, and turned them into sensual drifting dreams.

So many interesting transformations take place on “Ventriloquism”, but possibly the most surprising is George Clinton’s techno funk hit “Atomic Dog”, which somehow becomes a blissed out psychedelic folk number that early 70s Pink Floyd would have been proud of.
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