Brown Eyed Soul Vol. 1 by Cherri V – Classic yet Contemporary

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There are not many who have quite the rep that Cherri V has. A notable mainstay in Black British music, she has spent time honing her craft, recording alongside the likes of Jessie J, Dawn Richard, Wiley and Lethal Bizzle in the process. Having also been one half of the renowned underground R&B duo Dora Martin, she recently settled down to work on her debut solo full length.

A true artist, the London performer’s sense of soul is evident and her vocal ability is not only undeniable but unrivalled by many however it has taken her a fair amount of time to put together an individual body of work that we can enjoy. And now, after years of hard work in the industry, we finally have Brown Eyed Soul Vol. 1.

The name is a spin on the classic phrase ‘Blued Eyed Soul’ – the idea of the classic genre performed by white artists, from your Justin Timberlake to your Joss Stone. While there’s no shade on her end – she made this apparently clear in an interview – she emphasises through the title and throughout the project the importance of highlighting great soul from ‘brown eyed’ folk, telling the stories as we do best.

The first EP in the supposed beginning trilogy is an eight track wonder made up of a few previous single releases as well as a couple new cuts with a select number of features added to the mix. Classic R&B signatures with a contemporary flavour seems to be theme concurrently running through Brown Eyed Soul Vol. 1.

So the EP starts strong with opener “Leave Me Be”. Delivering velvety smooth vocalsCherri V sings Cherri V fuses this with an instrumental dipped in a jazz influenced sound. The enchanting synths that lay low in the back add to the atmosphere and the rhythmic production give it an ultimately contemporary R&B feel. The intro, as it seems, is a song born from a personal place.

Da Beatfreaks-produced “Runaway” has a synonymous bounce that you associate with the production duo. In life and love, it’s human to be torn in, it’s human to be sometimes indecisive. And sometimes as humans we just want to get away from it all to find some sort clarity. This is Cherri’s anthem speaking her truth and I, for one, can definitely relate.

What is love without a little pain? Cheating has definitely gotten less sophisticated these days and the age of tech means the millennial struggle has another battlefield to try and manoeuvre. “Snapchat Mistress” is the age of story of infidelity but from a social media perspective. Emojis, explicit images and finding their location is only some of the topics on the agenda as Cherri presents relatable woes in crude from a male and female perspective over a trap-esque audio canvas.

And what could be worse than cheating? Feeling undervalued and worthless…while actually in a relationship. “Lockdown/Prisoner” is just that story. And with something as deep as this, you need the right production to match it. You definitely can’t have Soul without some soulful sounding keys, right? But throw in some of that extra urban UK production sensibilities and the result is another track that will have your head nodding.

Things You Do” possesses a carefree sensibility, allowing the joys of love and attraction to spark up the track while the light-hearted instrumentals are great fun and make you want to shuffle. The very infectious piano and drums-led offering, with its R&B/Pop sensibilities, showcases Cherri V’s amazing vocal talent, and her carefree and relatable song-writing.

Cherri-V-Leave-Me-BeI am personally a sucker for a piano ballad and “Situationship” definitely ticks all the boxes for me. A beautifully orchestrated piano melody at the core, poignant lyrics and the sweet vocals of Cherri and Sincerely Wilson. Quite the millennial phrase, they detail that inconvenient position of not being officially being someone’s significant other despite desperately desiring to be.

It was a nice touch calling on the vocals of R&B veteran Terri Walker for the penultimate offering “Brown Eyed Soul (Interlude)”. Think of it as a passing of the baton, from the scholar to the student. But more so than that, it’s a brief but special vocal masterclass from such a revered talent.

And then we are left to “Swimming”, our grand finale, which sees Cherri sticking to the overarching ‘classic yet contemporary’ feel pushing the envelope musically with this experimental R&B musical backdrop, backed by synth piano arrangements and underpinned by Cherri’s amazing vocal performance and delivery, with RoxXxan providing the perfect guest rap verse to complement the record. The strength of this record propels the project as a whole and is a strong way to end it all.

In eight short tracks (excluding Situationship) Brown Eyed Soul Vol. 1 manages to explore the breadths of R&B in its own sort of sophistication, not only in terms of sounds but also with content. Cherri’s pen explores love, lust and relationships in a relatable and palatable manner which is commendable. As if there are enough superlatives to describe the vocal display by Cherri V. This EP is well produced and above all there are no ‘fillers’ which is satisfying for personally. It is a great position to springboard off – no how many volumes of Brown Eyed Soul we will be ultimately treated to.

Women of Soul – My Black British Top 5

It’s Black History Month, so why not (shrugs).

I’ve never had that typical musical upbringing. You know, the usual narratives like…

“My Dad had – insert classic artist names here – in his vinyl/CD collection”

or the infamous “My mum always played – insert popular artist name here – in the front room when we had to clean the house”

Yeah, none of that. My mum didn’t often play music at home and if she did, it was her Worship music compilations. Still, that didn’t stop my young, inquisitive self putting my ears in places it shouldn’t have been; It opened me up to the big, beautiful musical world. I developed a real appreciation for R&B and Soul but I feel sometimes the British trailblazers don’t get enough credit. I’ll do my bit. Here’s my top 5, in no particular order of course.

1. Sade Adu

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you might have noticed this is not the first time I’ve mentioned her name and probably won’t be the last. Sade-Adu7-600x488I don’t know what age I was when I first heard “Smooth Operator” but that song has stuck with me for the longest. There’s no-one I know that sounds quite like Sade. She just has a way with words and her vocals & tone are so full of character that they could tell a story when words may fail.  I personally don’t think there are many famed singers  who wouldn’t cite her as a source of influence and inspiration. She has developed a strong global fan base (she’s a lot bigger in the US than the UK) which is evident from her ability to tour and make a #1 hit record despite going on more than one hiatus, in an industry where it is not difficult to become yesterday’s news today. While these days she has become more reclusive, she is most certainly not irrelevant.

2) Beverley Knight

‘The Queen of the Black Country’ or ‘The Queen of British Soul’ or whatever you may wish to call her, Ms. Beverley Knight is a household name and has been a staple in the British Music industry for a few decades now.153265 It’s crazy because just the other day I stumbled across “Keep This Fire Burning”, a song which I haven’t heard since Primary school (a banger might I add) and I could almost sing the whole chorus AND the video gave me crazy nostalgia feels. While her traditional Gospel and Soul background is greatly evident in the way she performs, especially live,  the beauty of her artistry is how natural her catalogue of hits navigated through different genres… and how simple she could make it all look. Beverley Knight encapsulated an era of music in Britain where R&B, which was essentially Pop back in the day, was really in heavy rotation. She was a name that you were bound to hear on the radio and see on TV.

3) Estelle

I’m not biased because we’re birthday twins. For me, Estelle was one of the first artists of my generation that I recognised really making major moves. I became a fan from when she dropped “1980” (which happens to now be one of my favourite Estelle songs) and Estelleshe was on my radar ever since. She has definitely come a long way from her humble beginnings and in every interview or public appearance, she definitely flies the flag and is proud of whom she is and where she’s from. If there is one thing I have always appreciated it is her versatility; the soul in her, the R&B, the Pop and Hip-Hop can all shine on a particular album as a reflection of her own influences. Despite her last album dropping in 2015, she’s been generally flying under the radar as of late with the exception of features here and there for De La Soul and Tyler, The Creator but it’s high time that we got a brand new Estelle album.
She dropped a new single “Love Like Ours” – go pree that.

4) Marsha Ambrosius

Marsha Ambrosius needs not an introduction but ‘The Songstress’ is renowned for being one half of the legendary R&B duo Floetry. Fans of R&B/Soul music the world over know of the Grammy nominated pair for songs like “Say Yes”, “Getting Late” and “SupaStar”. marsha-kimWhile I feel their active years were quite short lived, Marsha never stopped contributing to the world of music and staying true to her genre and art form. She is appreciated for the bold and effortless way she works her unique tone and it has gotten her the chance to work with just about everyone BIG in the game – from Nas to Queen Latifah, From Dr. Dre to Robert Glasper, from Kanye to Jamie Foxx. Not only does her talent lie in her vocals but also in her pen, writing one of my favourite MJ songs (originally recorded by Floetry) “Butterflies”. She often isn’t the first name the comes to mind and like Sade isn’t as embraced in her homeland but her contributions definitely paved the way.

5) Lianne La Havas

While it’s not the typical soul … I have really developed a special and deep rooted affinity to Lianne La Havas and the wonderful way she has concocted her brand of Soul b8d40aca0412d6bf75fa703482f7f3abe6df5f5cwith elements of Folk and R&B. Arguably, one of Britain’s best soulful exports in recent years excluding the giants like Adele, her Grammy, Mercury, MOBO, Brit and Ivor Novello award nominations are testament to her craft. I believe it is the power of her style of music and her sophisticated writing ability that has allowed her and also her beloved guitar to take to festivals and stages all over the world. A genuine fan of her 2015 album Blood, she is not an artist you should pass up on by any means. If you don’t at least have “Lost and Found” in your Spotify or Apple Music playlist somewhere then I really question what you are doing.

 

While there can only be a top 5, honourable mentions must go to Corrine Bailey Rae, Melissa Bell & Caron Wheeler, Emeli Sande, Shola Ama, Cynthia Erivo and Gabrielle. These ladies plus the 5 aforementioned have really helped make British Soul/R&B what it is today and I would hope their names can live forever more.