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Album review: Ledisi's 'Turn Me Loose'

August 18, 2009 |  5:39 am
Ledisi_240_ No musician forgets his or her first Grammy nomination. But Ledisi, an earthy R&B singer from Oakland, probably remembers hers for a unique reason: Announcing the nominees for last year's best new artist prize, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters admitted he didn't know how to pronounce Ledisi's name, presumably because he'd never come across it. (Needless to say, Grohl had no trouble with Taylor Swift and Amy Winehouse.)

For the record, the name rhymes with "legacy" -- appropriate for an artist whose breakthrough album, 2007's "Lost & Found," reflected a proudly conservative neo-soul sensibility.

Ledisi's new set, "Turn Me Loose," feels like the work of someone determined to make a deeper impact; it's glossier and more youth-oriented than "Lost & Found," with beatwise production by rap-friendly veterans such as Raphael Saadiq, Chucky Thompson and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. In the album's opener, "Runnin,' " Ledisi yowls like a punk-rock Tina Turner over a hard-knocking groove by Chief Xcel, half of the Bay Area hip-hop duo Blackalicious.

The singer sounds perfectly comfortable with her sonic makeover on "Turn Me Loose," particularly in the pair of cuts produced by the crafty Saadiq. "I can't keep living in the past," she sings in "Love Never Changes," one of three tracks here with the word "changes" in its title.

Yet for all the sleek settings and the vocal firepower Ledisi deploys, "Turn Me Loose" doesn't really present an artistic persona any more memorable than the earnest traditionalist from "Lost & Found." Ledisi extols the power of transformation but fails to demonstrate who precisely she's become.

-- Mikael Wood

"Turn Me Loose"
Verve Forecast
Two stars