One listen to Leela James nostalgic debut, A Change Is Gonna Come (named after Sam Cooke's 1964 hit), and it's evident that James is a pupil and conduit of classic soul. "You can't fake or buy soul," says James. "It's either inside of you or it isn't."
Invoking the fiery spirits of Tina Turner and Parliment-Funkadelic with the soulful timbre of mavens such as Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson, James embarks on a melodic pilgrimage offering her special brand of "back porch" soul. "I call it back porch soul because it's a style of music that's homegrown, reminiscent of a time where folks sat around on those hot, sticky days on their porches singing and playing the blues. It's a style that's gritty, that's raw, not contrived or watered down. It's what I grew up around, it's in my roots, it's who I am."
Surprisingly, the Los Angeles songbird's emotive vocals and ardent lyrics belie her youth and diminutive appearance. "Because I have a high-pitched speaking voice and I don't have a 'big mama' soul look, people are always surprised when they hear me sing."
Perhaps, James' vocal prowess is a culmination of years of performing on the indie circuit and opening for music luminaries such as Stephanie Mills, Macy Gray, Robert Randolph and the Black Eyed Peas. Allow Lady James to hip the world to her soul and funk inspirations and they'll discover that her back porch soul diet was served up in church pews and family functions. "I was raised on gospel, blues and funk," explains James. "My father had a huge record collection that I listened toÃ¢Â€Â“Ã¢Â€Â“B.B. King, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, so I'm simply a product of my environment."
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