Ever since her debut Change Is Gonna Come in 2005, Leela James has been pushing the music forward with a fresh, contemporary perspective that remains faithful to the music’s deep and powerful roots. And, she continues with her new album, My Soul, set for release on May 25th.
The new album marks Leela James’ first forray with Stax Records, a division of Concord Music Group. The move to Stax — the home of some of the greatest soul and R&B artists of the past half-century — is a fitting destination for a vocalist who has committed herself to preserving the soul tradition.
James has come to own the music that has inspired her since her teenage years. Her commanding live performances have become can’t-miss thrillers, placing her among today’s most electrifying international concert draws.
“The title of the album pretty much says it all,” she explains. “I just wanted to go into the studio and do what moved me at the time, and not think about it too much or not allow it to be something that was too planned. That’s what great soul music has always been about from the very beginning – something very raw, very authentic and very true.”
The first single off My Soul is “Tell Me You Love Me,” a track that James co-wrote with Andrea Martin and Gordon Williams. The track was produced by rap and hip-hop producer Gerrard Baker (Toni Braxton, Billy Crawford, Masta Ace), who deftly inserts a sample of James riffing on a line from “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” the classic ballad made popular among soul audiences by the Manhattans in 1978.
“This is one of my favorite tracks on the record,” says James. “It’s a song about someone who’s really trying to make love work, which is the same message you hear in “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” Great songs are great songs, no matter when they’re recorded, or by whom. And sometimes two great songs blend together well, like they do here.”
Other noteworthy tracks on My Soul include the churning opener, “Ain’t New To This,” a proud and defiant declaration of survival in the minefield known as the music business; and the bouncy “Party All Night,” penned by James and produced by Carl “Chucky” Thompson, who previously worked with Leela on her debut album.
Other notable producers on that debut record were Kanye West and Commissioner Gordon among others.
While James may have been surrounded by talent in the making of My Soul, the record is ultimately her personal statement – not just about the music’s rich past but about its present and its future as well. Her arrival at Stax may position her among legends, but she’s well aware that she still has much to do and say.