FoodKelis is an incredible singles artist. I’m not going to begin listing them all but if a reminder is needed then just play 2008’s greatest hits compilation -- barely a mis-step over a near fifteen- year career. Seen often as an innovator, Kelis is certainly an artist that the world of r’n’b and hip-hop cannot seem to contain. Hailed as the next big thing upon her arrival in 1999 with the brittle and bawling “Caught Out There” she was the original Pharrell/The Neptunes collaborator. Falling down on the spare and only occasionally fully-realised second album “Wanderland”, she rose again in spectacular fashion with the still ubiquitous “Milkshake” from 2003’s “Tasty” album. She conquered EDM just before it reached saturation point with the bold but uneven “Flesh Tone” and although this contained the mammoth “Acapella”, it just continued the fate of the star’s underwhelming if ambitious run of full length recordings. 2014’s incarnation may however see a reversal for Kelis; possibly lacking that one massive hit single, “Food” might instead be her most cohesive and consistently engaging long playing collection to date.

‘Are you hungry? My mum made food’, so asks Kelis’s 5-year old little boy Knight on album opener “Breakfast”. Using her son’s voice to introduce the album neatly sets up the album’s themes; a new outlook as a single mother and a woman who has recently graduated as a chef, nurturing on a more organic and sensual level and looking for quality fulfilment. Produced by David Sitek and incorporating a live band, assertive backing singers and strings which reference an era that begins in the late sixties and moves through to the mid-seventies. Genre switch-ups of this kind are not uncommon career decisions but Kelis has a charismatic and unusual delivery and an assertiveness that can carry such a radical change. The first three songs, which include the brassy and euphoric single “Jerk Ribs”, are very pleasant if predictable excursions into this unknown territory  but it’s only on the fourth track “Floyd”, that the deal is secured. Delicious baritone horns, a gorgeous and dreamy vocal and a wonderfully restrained, seductive one minute fade out set the scene for the album’s sometime raucous and constantly surprising middle section.

The last quarter of “Food” is the most satisfying and diverse. “Bless the Telephone”- originally by UK artist Labi Siffre, is a warm and melodic, acoustic guitar duet with Sal Masakela. Tender and beautifully sung it’s the shortest song but delivers one of the biggest successes. “Rumble” is a simple, piano-riffed and rolling mid-tempo song which, on a rare moment here, sees Kelis address problems with an ex-partner in the no-nonsense and honestly amusing style that she has become famous for. Her vocals sound thick and hoarse on the chorus, the perfect combination given the aggrieved but still conflicted demand that he return her keys. “Change” is “Food”’s star, it captures everything that is essentially Kelis and filters it through the dynamics and soundscapes that have been chosen as the sonic and stylistic template for the album. One of only a couple of songs to do so, “Change” also has influences that don’t predate Kelis’s age; it has a noir trip-hop quality which has been set against a sparkling and angry early seventies Blaxplotitation soundtrack. It could be covered by Adele or Shirley Bassey but suits Kelis perfectly.

Many new millennial r’n’b starts did not survive their first decade but “Food” is Kelis’s sixth album and is as surprising and spirited as her first. Whilst her 1999 debut “Kaleidoscope” sounded like the future, this is a look back on her musical heritage which thankfully steers clear of pastiche or cosiness. More than anything, Kelis feels as though she is fully responsible for guiding her own path here and that, for better or worse, the music she is producing now is made with heart and conviction. An idiosyncratic and unpredictable performer who has successfully refused to be pigeon-holed from the get go, she still encourages excitement on each new release and attracts genuine respect based on her resilience and decision not to become the cliché that some of her contemporaries have. Kelis is one of pop and r’n’b music’s most interesting and brave characters and “Food” is her most satisfying album yet; indulge.

Product DetailsThe second of our guest High Five contributions comes from Skye Edwards.  Most of you probably know Skye best from her work with Morcheeba but she has also released three excellent solo albums since 2006 (“Mind How You Go”, “Keeping Secrets” and this year’s “Back to Now”).  Skye went one better than the Riot Squad by selecting her favourite 5 albums of all-time and it’s fair to say that they are a cracking collection.  For what it’s worth, I’ve added some observations and background.

“Exodus” – Bob Marley & the WailersProduct Details

Although Bob Marley had attracted some attention with “Live!” in 1975, it was “Exodus” that catapulted him to international fame in 1977.  The album demonstrates every aspect of Bob Marley’s appeal, from the mysticism of “Exodus” and “Natural Mystic” through the yearning of “Waiting in Vain” to the outrageously catchy “Three Little Birds”.  I’ll say something here which refers to every album in Skye’s selection; if you’re even slightly interested in music, you should have all of these albums in your collection.

“Hats” – The Blue NileProduct Details

Although this was released at a time when anyone in Glasgow who looked good in 24” waist jeans and shades could get a record deal, The Blue Nile’s second album was a very special and highly influential album.  When everyone else in Scotland played guitar-oriented pop, The Blue Nile concentrated on keyboards and samples to produce some ethereal innovative, and evocative music which still sounds great today.  They weren’t a prolific band (4 albums in 21 years), but do you want quality or quantity?

Solid Air” – John MartynProduct Details

John Martyn was a true innovator and hugely gifted songwriter who really did do it his way.  He developed a drawling, laconic vocal delivery and pioneered the use of effects pedals to thicken up his guitar sound (including building up layers of sound using analogue echo units).  “Solid Air” was his sixth album and the point where everything came together to create a classic.  It’s a tribute to John Martyn’s songwriting that, from this album, “May You Never” was covered by Eric Clapton (on “Slowhand”), “Man in the Station” was covered by Ian Matthews (on “Stealing Home”) and “Solid Air” has been covered by Skye (on the tribute album “Johnny Boy Would Love This”).

Stronger Than Pride” – SadeProduct Details

Sade Adu had one of the voices which defined the 80s; a great soul voice which seemed at times to be produced with absolutely no effort.  The smoothness of the voice and the arrangements could distract from the genuine quality of the songs at times, but they were great songs.  This album came towards the end of Sade’s time in the limelight but was undoubtedly the work of an artist at the top of her game and it’s worth having if only for “Love is Stronger than Pride”.

The Singles” – Shirley BasseyProduct Details

It’s fitting that a singer would choose a Shirley Bassey album as one of their top 5; this is a great collection of songs which includes 2 Bond themes (“Diamonds are Forever” and “Goldfinger”), 2 Beatles covers (“The Fool on the Hill” and “Something”) and the wonderful “Big Spender”.  And that’s less than a third of the album.  This is a great example of an artist with a fabulous voice working with strong songs and great arrangements to produce truly memorable performances.

 

Many thanks to Skye Edwards for sharing her all-time favourites with us; tomorrow we have the selection of Steve Jenner, drive-time presenter on Ashbourne Radio in Derbyshire and a man with an ear for a great tune.