The fat, hard-hitting groove that opens “Penitentiary Philosophy,” the first track on Erykah Badu’s new Mama’s Gun (Motown), might be explained by something called the D’Angelo Effect. It was laid down by musicians like Pino Palladino, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, and James Poyser–all crucial players on D’Angelo’s paradigm-setting Voodoo–and both records were cut at Electric Lady Studios. But it’s not long before Badu makes it clear that she’s still doing her own thing. With her superb 1997 debut, Baduizm, she established a new model for post-hip-hop female soul, her lean grooves insinuating sensuality rather than shoving it in your face. The new record puts meat on the bones of her style. And though that occasionally means too much cosmic flute tooting, in an attempt at 70s soul-jazz accents, more often the lush depth serves as the perfect foil for Badu’s newly strengthened singing. She no longer sounds like a pale shadow of Billie Holiday; her quietest whisper and her throatiest declaration are equally confident. The earth-mama tone of her lyrics doesn’t always make a strong impression, but here and there she scores: “Bag Lady” uses a simple but effective metaphor for mental baggage (“When they see you comin’ / Niggas take off runnin'”), and “Cleva” is a sassy ode to inner beauty: “This is how I look without makeup / And with no bra my ninnies sag…But I’m cleva when I bust a rhyme / Cleva always on ya mind.” Musiq and Talib Kweli open. Friday and Saturday, February 23 and 24, 8 PM, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress; 312-431-2370 or 312-902-1500.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Motown Records Inc..