The brand of artistry that India.Arie represents is scarce in today’s overly sexual R&B scene. As the leader of acoustic neo-soul, her music has a vintage yet timeless sound. Simultaneous to songs that pull heart strings, Arie also packs messages of black self-empowerment, and she owes the message in the song “Video,” an anti-video vixen anthem, to winning over audiences in 2002.
Ten years into her career, Arie continues to stand for black love, self-empowerment and a positive black female image. After a lengthy hiatus between albums, Arie’s latest album SongVersation is a well-crafted effort that offers plenty of beautiful acoustic soundscapes for her sweet voice to glide over and fill listeners’ hearts and minds.
SongVersation opens with the uplifting anthem “Just Do You” and effectively sets the tone for the rest of the collection of tracks. The groove and songwriting on the song are strongly reminiscent of Jennifer Hudson’s repertoire, who was likely influenced by India.Arie in the first place. Arie’s second favorite topic next to self-love is the love of being in love, as she professes on “This Love” and “Nothing That I Love More,” the latter of which epitomizes Arie’s sound: acoustic guitar riffs accompanied by finger-snapping grooves and lyrics oozing positivity. The album’s single “Cocoa Butter” is in the same vein, just a little more subdued. The music is healing as much as the lyrics, “Cocoa butter on my heart… I show my burns/You show me lessons learnt/I show you my scars, you show me works of art.”
The continuity of SongVersation truly makes the album live up to its name. Arie is an effective communicator, and one of the choice examples is her vocal styling over the light piano notes and sparse percussion on “Moved By You.” Arie leaves the organic soul sound for a reggae riddim on “Thy Will Be Done” featuring Gramps Morgan; the result is very enjoyable, as Arie’s vocals blend perfectly against the multi-layered and lush instrumentation. Similarly to how she addressed women on “Just Do You,” Arie has empowering words for men on “Brothers’ Keeper.” Among the bonus tracks on the 16 song album are some standouts as well: “6th Avenue” is a clever ode to falling in love in New York City (and with NYC), while “Strange Fruit” is a remake of the Billie Holiday classic (which, ironically enough, was sampled by Kanye West on Yeezus’ “Blood On the Leaves.”)
Fans have waited for four years since India.Arie’s last release, 2009’s Testimony Vol. 2: Love & Politics, and despite the time lapse, they shouldn’t be disappointed in SongVersation. Arie, a multiple Grammy winner, picks up right where she left off and reasserts her place in R&B’s elite echelon thanks to a collection of well-crafted songs produced by a team that includes Grammy-winning songwriter Shannon Sanders, songwriters David Ryan Harris, Michael Ruff and Arie herself. SongVersation has the organic recipe that is easy is to digest and should be soundtracking Sunday afternoons all over the country this summer and well into the future.