Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Laura Izibor: Let The Truth Be Told

Why does Laura Izibor’s debut album, Let The Truth Be Told, irk me so much? Is it the glossy, semi-generic songs and arrangements? Is it Izibor’s vocals, vaguely characterless, an approximation of soulfulness rather than actually being soulful? Or is it that her songs, like “Shine” and “Don’t Stay,” which take on inspiration and love, do it so safely that they end up feeling like a cliche, resulting in a diminishing of love and inspiration themselves?

Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. Izibor has a technically powerful voice, but there’s nothing in it that makes it uniquely her own, rather than just an amalgamation of a boatload of soul singers before her. What’s missing in Izibor’s voice is any hint of the blues, that great ingredient that makes a song land as more than just a platitude. Any great soul singer, be they Otis Redding, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, or hell, even Amy Winehouse, sings even their most buoyant material with a bluesiness that comes from living with the existential knowledge of the pain that living brings. Listening to Let The Truth Be Told, it's clear that while she may have taken on singing soul because she genuinely loves it, she doesn’t have it in her bones - and the resulting music ends up dismayingly hollow.

The obvious models for Izibor’s music are Alicia Keys, Joss Stone and John Legend – bland, inoffensive and safe as possible, made for film and TV placements, commercials and marketing departments, lacking any of the risk, originality and emotional rawness that make soul music, you know, soulful. Izibor says of her music that “the foundation starts with soul,” but she’s flattering herself with her conceit. Or maybe she doesn’t know any better.

No, why this irks me is that this is the kind of stuff that fools people who don’t know any better that this is the real thing. It’s so maddeningly competent and nothing more that it lands as pointless. It's very nice music - and real soul is never nice. If Izibor is going to be a soul singer that matters, she's going to have to dig a lot deeper into her own self than is evidenced on Let The Truth Be Told. The truth is never as flimsy as this music is.