By Dustin Krcatovich | Published March 2019
Vocalist Vivian Sessoms has spent most of her career backing the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Donna Summer, but on Life and Life II, she makes a rare foray to center stage. Life is heavy on covers, while Life II features more originals; though both lean a bit heavily on 1990s neo-soul tropes (not a negative thing, but it helps to have the magnetic eccentricity of Erykah Badu to carry it off), they have their charms.
Sessoms shines on Life’s original “Dreaming Of A Boy,” a languid ballad about her son growing up, and her take on “See Line Woman” gives the song a modern bounce with saxophone contributed by Bowie sideman Donny McCaslin. Other updates don’t go so well: “Strange Fruit” is germane to our times, but its power’s undercut by grafting its heart-rending lyric onto a boom-bap beat.
Life II is the more successful of the two albums. “As” is a psychedelic journey, “I Can’t Breathe (For Erica)” a harrowing tribute to Erica and Eric Garner, and a cover of The Fixx hit “One Thing Leads To Another” feels almost like a throwaway, but a fun one.
These aren’t the most original albums under the sun, but neo-soul fans could do worse. Sessoms and company didn’t invent their game, but they do a solid job playing it.
Life/Life II: 7th Heaven; No Greater Love (& Loves Refrain Reprise); Under My Skin; Superwoman; Gabriels Lament; Dreaming Of A Boy; See Lude; See Line Woman; New Earth; People (& Belles Personnes Reprise); O.O.B.E.; Lush Life (& Love Sick Reprise); High Life; Strange Fruit; Portal. (57:42)/In The Making; The Best Is Yet To Come (& Twin Souls Reprise); Fool Me Once; I Can’t Breathe (For Erica); Eden; One Thing Leads To Another; If They Only Knew; Sa Ra; As; 1 Thing; A Real Thing; Remembrance (For Sybil). (58:11)
Personnel: Vivian Sessoms, vocals; Kali Zain Jafari, Freedom Bremner, Major TRUTH Green, vocals; Chris Parks, guitar, bass, keyboards; Shedrick Mitchell, piano, Fender Rhodes; Dave Archer, keyboards; Charissa Rouse, strings; Brandee Younger, harp; Sherrod Barnes, Mark Whitfield, guitar; Keyon Harrold, Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet; Donny McCaslin, Cliff Lyons, saxophone; Casey Benjamin, saxophone, Fender Rhodes, vocoder; John Isley, saxophone; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; Carlos Henderson, bass; Eric Brown, drums, percussion; Meku Yisrael, conga; Jeremy Gaddie, Billy Kilson, Martin Valihora, Gerry Gibbs, Adam Jackson, Donald Edwards, Tony Lewis, drums.