Spin Cycle

Teena Marie’s unexpected death in 2010 brought to a close the second act of one of soul music’s most intriguing artists. Race aside (and I’m assuming that at this point we all know that Lady T was white,) Teena’s music was where contemporary R&B met Prince with a splash of Joni Mitchell mixed in. Unlike many recent posthumous efforts from out dearly departed legends, the recently released Beautiful sends Teena Marie off on a high note.

R&B legend Teena Marie's posthumous effort is an unexpected gem.

R&B legend Teena Marie’s posthumous effort is an unexpected gem.

Compiled, in part, by Teena’s talented daughter, Alia Rose (who contributes vocals to several tracks,) Beautiful was the album Teena was working on at the time of her departure, and it holds together pretty well. There are no phoned in vocals, no unnecessary studio-crafted “duets” with other stars, there isn’t even anything particularly sad or heart-tugging besides the fact that it’s Teena’s last album. It’s a fairly breezy affair-reasonably in the pocket with modern R&B (not hip-hop) radio while harkening back to Teena’s signature sound. The mildly egregious use of auto-tune on “Rare Breed” (which features a rap interlude from Rick James’ daughter Ty) is the only thing that might leave a bad taste in your mouth if you’re a fan. Lady T don’t need no damn auto-tune.

If you’re looking for slow jams, though, Teena’s got what you need. “Carte Blanche,” the album’s best track, is a perfect addition to the long list of bedroom classics Lady T has amassed (“Portuguese Love,” anyone?? “Shadow Boxing?” “Cassanova Brown?”) and “Wild Horses” (not the Rolling Stones song, but same sentiment) is almost its equal. The Latin-spiced “Maria Bonita” is another winner, and she even takes Curtis Mayfield’s funk classic “Give Me Your Love” and gives it a feminine do-over. Despite being sampled into oblivion, those harp-like guitar chords are still trance-inducing. Add Teena in full purring seduction mode, and her version is the rare cover version that deserves your attention.

Truthfully, I find Beautiful more enjoyable than any of her post-2000 “comeback” albums. While each of those sets (La Dona,  Sapphire and Congo Square) had great songs, they were all too long and suffered from Teena’s predilection for, shall we say, ponderous lyricism. I’m not sure whether my enjoyment of this album has something to do with the knowledge that it will likely be the last studio album we get from Teena (also, I don’t know if this album seems more succinct because Teena didn’t get the opportunity to overanalyze/restructure her lyrics) but the fact is…it’s a solid album that makes me miss Lady T even more.

Grade: B

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