They say they don't make 'em like they used to, but in one case they sure do: Leela James's new album Let's Do It Again (Shanachie) is a throwback to the gritty glory days of Ann Peebles and Betty Wright — whose "Clean Up Woman" leads off — that James and her band cut live in four days.
Also featuring script-flipping versions of James Brown's "This Is a Man's World," the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is," it's the best pure soul record Chatter has heard in a long, long while. James's next album of original material is due early next year on Concord/Stax Records, the perfect label for this latter-day soul shouter.
We spoke with the South Central L.A. native, who moved to Houston a couple of years ago, at the Houston Press office last week.
Leela James With Dwele, 8 p.m. Friday, June 26, at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837, www.hob.com/Houston.
Chatter: The sound on the record is more of an old-school soul sound than people like Keyshia Cole or Keri Hilson. Where do you think you fit into the contemporary R&B landscape?
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Leela James: I'm not sure that I necessarily fit into any type of box. I march to the tune of my own beat. I'm a soul singer, so I tend to have a little more soul than what's considered soul these days from a commercial standpoint. But on my new CD, I have some records that would be, I guess, radio-formatted or commercially formatted, but at the same time I have an old, throwback sound.
My voice in itself is a very old-school sound, so that combined with certain current sounds of what is considered more commercial makes me relevant, but I still don't know that I fit, because I'm very soulful (laughs).
C: How did you wind up in Houston?
LJ: My family is originally from here, so a little bird dropped by and said, "Hey, you might want to look at some things down in Houston. You can really get your money's worth in terms of property. I just came down here one weekend and couldn't believe what you could get. I decided I might want to explore the option of purchasing a home out here, and that's what I did.
C: Do you think your grittier sound has made it more difficult for you to get radio play?
LJ: I don't get a lot of radio play, and I definitely feel like, you know, my sound is a little older than the norm. I don't have a teeny-popper/baby-voice sound, and that's what people are used to hearing on radio formats. So maybe we can change that.
C: Houston is still pretty much seen as a rap town. I know you spend a lot of time on the road, but as a soul singer, what's your assessment of the musical climate here?
LJ: Hmmm. It's interesting, because I'm not really here enough to really get a feel for Houston. But Houston is a little different. It's definitely a Southern rap city. Aside from that, I know you have your country, but there's a nice little blues/zydeco culture here that I like. In terms of soul artists, there's not many, but again, hopefully that can change. I'm here now, so we'll see.
C: If Bun B, Trae or Chamillionaire approached you to sing a hook on one of their songs, would you?
LJ: Yeah. It depends on what they want me to sing, what they're talking about. But yeah. I'm not going to sing any old thing that's disrespectful or degrading to me as a woman.
Dave Rask, a gifted local singer-songwriter and member of the bands Death by Texas (formerly Midnight Pilots) and Barstool Forest, sustained burns over 90 percent of his body last week and passed away June 18 at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. The Seabrook native, 27, was a familiar sight at Boondocks and Avant Garden whose solo material was similar to Bob Dylan's and Roky Erickson's. His song "Westheimer Shake," available on Rask's MySpace page (www.myspace.com/daverask), "perfectly embodies the feeling of that street on a Friday night, chock-full of smoke and booze," wrote the Houston Press's Craig Hlavaty.
Funeral arrangements are pending. The Press extends our condolences to Rask's friends and family.
88 E. Crosstimbers, 713-694-6800
1. Pleasure P, Introduction of Marcus Cooper
2. Lil Wayne, Tear Drop Tune
3. Chris Ardoin, Alter Ego
4. Drake, So Far Gone
5. Teena Marie, Congo Square
6. Brian Courtney Wilson, Just Love
7. Eminem, Relapse
8. Cam'ron, Crime Pays
9. Richard Elliot, Rock Steady
10. Paul Wall, 100 Mixtape
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Selections from Rick Heysquierdo's June 13 playlist
1. Hank Williams, "Lost Highway"
2. Hank Snow, "The Gal Who Invented Kissing"
3. Michelle Shocked, "La Cantina El Gato Negro"
4. Miss Leslie & Her Juke Jointers, "I'm Done With Leaving"
5. Jubal Lee Young, "Greedy Old Men With Fountain Pens"
6. Big Mama Thornton, "Hound Dog"
7. Levon Helm, "You Can't Lose What You Never Had"
8. Bruce Springsteen, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
9. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "Even the Losers"
10. Elvis Costello, "Hidden Shame"
(lists compiled by Chris Gray)
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