AS I AM: True to form, the singer's latest combines melodic appeal and emotional heft.
“This is my third album, but it feels like my first.” So says reggae-soul songbird Alaine, in describing Ten of Hearts (Jukeboxx Productions), her latest studio recording that’s a melodic blend of soulfulness and sobering message, passion and pleasure principles and the art of living and loving in the age of Instagram and WhatsApp.
These days, the singer, who gave us previous offerings like “Sacrifice” and “You Are Me,” is a more grown-up and glamorous version of her talented self (check out the album cover), but at her core and, as Ten of Hearts attests, Alaine is still that wide-eyed optimist blessed with sensitivity and an easy laugh who holds fast to the age-old transformative power of love.
Her inner glow lights up tracks like the repeat-worthy “Favourite Boy,” on which she invites him to “come dance with me forever” and “Better Than This,” a warm and tender reminder of what some good love can do. Alaine’s labelmate Tarrus Riley is a natural fit on “Sugar High” (referencing queen bees, honey and sweet surrender); Dexta Daps proves he’s got the magic number on the up-tempo track “Number One”; while Dre Island expertly plays the rhythm-and-rhyme companion on “Like a Drum.”
Her fine songwriting ability aside, the disc is a solid showcase for Alaine’s deft and respectful touch when it comes to handling serious subject matter. She tackles the plight of the homeless with compassion and curiosity on the heartfelt jam “Sidewalk Hotel”, shares the touching story of a girl she calls “Suzanna” and reminds us of how life can take unexpected turns on “Make It Home Again”.
Testament to her versatility, Ten of Hearts also takes fun and surprising detours, like when she teams up Africa’s Mwalim Churchill on the jaunty “Wafula” and delivers memorable covers of the classic jams “Loving Feeling” (wonderfully reinterpreted by producer Dean Fraser) and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” produced by Shane Brown.
Packed with 14 tracks laden with soulful stylings, emotional heft, melodic appeal and substance, Hearts scores, quite easily, a perfect ten. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-
> BEST TRACKS: “Better Than This”, “Don’t Walk Away” (feat J-Boog), “Sidewalk Hotel” and “Favourite Boy”