In 2003, when now-defunct neo-soul duo Floetry appeared on the scene with their hypnotic, groovy debut Floetic, the world was introduced to the finger-snappy poetry of ‘floacist’ Natalie Stewart and the beautiful lyrical and vocal stylings of songbird Marsha Ambrosius. These days, eight years later, fans are getting a proper session with Ambrosius, thanks to the long-awaited arrival of her solo debut, Late Nights & Early Mornings, out this month via J Records. (Stewart released her solo project Floetic Soul in 2010.)
Laden with her trademark deeply emotional lyrics and a voice rich with yearning, the album delivers moving, beautifully writen R&B-soul jams like “Far Away” and the play-it-to-death title track, on which she lets loose during the song’s gorgeous refrain. Apart from the aforementioned singles, the highlights are numerous, giving Ambrosius unrestricted exhibition of her impressive vocal range and deft songwriting skills. Though she recruits a handful of assistants, Late Nights & Early Mornings is totally her. She might borrow from the retro-soul songbook on tracks like the slow-burning “Tears” and play the angry ex-girl on “Hope She Cheats On You (With a Basketball Player)” but Ambrosius is really a good, modern-day girl who is guilty of moments when she goes off on a tangent.
But on the album, the listening experience is at its most pleasurable when the disc comes around to the bruisingly emotional cut “Chasing Clouds,” a slice of pure R&B-funk. And much of the same magic manifests on the pain-soaked cover of Portishead’s “Sour Times.” Ambrosius knows she doesn’t have to force the elegant pacing of the record, and she keeps things slow and steady with other offerings like the Alicia Keys-copenned “With You” and the introspective, Lauryn Hill-written “Lose Myself.” But there’s a jolt of midtempo energy on the “Butterflies (remix)" to bring the album to a memorable close.
True, there are intermittent hiccups – a few tracks, including the uninspired “I Want You To Stay,” fall short of Ambrosius’ reputable skills. But any suggestion that such a minor quibble takes anything from the overall result would be a grave dishonour. It helps that the singer has assembled a batch of serious, successful R&B hitmakers (Rich Harrison, Dre & Vidal, Just Blaze) to help craft her tracks. Late Nights & Early Mornings does transport die-hard fans back to Floetry’s stint on the neo-soul circuit, but the album – more importantly – heralds the arrival of Ambrosius as a solo artiste, a singer-songwriter and producer of note. And, in short, her debut is perfect for, yes, late nights and early mornings.
DOWNLOAD: The melodious “Chasing Clouds,” the Just Blaze-produced “Far Away” and the luminous title track