Leela James – Did It for Love (2017)
Leela James – Did It For Love (review)
My perception of Leela James from viewing R&B Divas: Los Angeles was that of an artist who is very comfortable in her skin. Plenty of celebrities come onto reality shows hoping that their presence alone will generate the buzz that will jump start their careers, and the only product that they bring to the set seems to be drama. James had a plan to ensure that whenever fans of the show, and the TV and internet gossip talkers, said about James’ role on the reality program would be debated in the context of her well timed and well received album, Fall for You.
James has always been comfortable and confident with propulsive, powerful and mature vocals that appear to come from another time. Her husky vocals are distinct from what is heard on radio today, and she’s never tried to “dumb it down” or “young it up” in pursuit that ever evasive crossover appeal. What you heard from James vocally since her 2005 debut album, A Change is Gonna Come, is what you will hear on her latest release, Did it For Love. James is a soul singer who sings about good old fashioned love, and as “Don’t Want You Back,” the lead single of Did it for Love shows, she has no problem cutting off a man who is unwilling or unable to match her in the loyalty department. James stays in that same vein on “Don’t Mean a Thing” a funky, mid-tempo number that finds the vocalist telling her man that she too much of a woman of substance to fall for those flowery words. “Although I love when we kissing and hugging/And you tell me those sweet nothings/Those things don’t mean a thing/Without showing your love.”
James fully displays her vocal talent in the one place where those with the gift shine, and that is on the ballads. The most notable is “All Over Again,” a tune that finds James largely accompanied by a piano. The sparse arrangement gives James ample space to showcase her range and flare for the dramatic on a tune that finds her pledging her love and devotion to her man. James is in a reflective mood on “I Remember,” a torchy number that shifts from a slow, driving funk track as she seeks to understand what went wrong in a relationship that seemed so good. The tune’s tempo speeds up a tick on the hook as James and her backing vocalists engage in a bit of call and response while recounting the good times. “I remember when how you used to say you loved me/I remember how it felt when you would touch me/All I have is memories of what we used to be/I remember, baby.”
“There 4 U” is an up-tempo number where she joyously and confidently lets her man know ride or die game is on point. The track sports a smooth funk bass line, tightly coordinated horns and those dramatic breaks and has the feel of some Philly International soul. Leela James is equally known for her cover albums as for her original stuff, and that’s understandable because I can listen to her sing “Baby I’m Scared of You” every day and twice on Sundays. James may enjoy diving into the soul music canon, but early in her career she showed she had no desire to become the front woman of a glorified cover band. She has repeatedly confirmed her decision with a series of quality albums and sterling performances, and Did it for Love again shows her as a one-of-a-kind contemporary artist. Solidly Recommended
By Howard Dukes