Leela James
Leela James Credit: Courtesy the artist

Since Leela James put out her debut album, 2005’s A Change Is Gonna Come, the soul siren has released a steady stream of music, exploring new stylistic elements while staying remarkably focused. In a press bio from 2010, she said, “My sound today may be different than where I was five years ago, but my core is always the same.” More than a decade later, that still rings true. On the new See Me (BMG), the production by Rex Rideout and Jairus “JMo” Mozee, which features lots of electronic samples, might be the most experimental yet on a Leela James record. The opener, “Break My Soul,” includes a rap by Mumu Fresh, and on the down-tempo “Trying to Get By,” James sings against ominous guitars about the seeming impossibility of making it from day to day, with layers of overdubbed vocals crooning in assent. She never lets the production dominate, though, and remains in the center of the action at all times—on the title track, a reflective ballad, she makes demands of an errant lover rather than pleading for a change or caving in and accepting bad behavior. Nearly two decades into her career, See Me shows that James is still making vital work.   v