Two words come to mind when listening to the deluxe edition of Speak, the latest from New York singer-songwriter Marla Mase: variety and confidence. Throughout this record these two traits complement each other, and Mase has them in spades. They work together to produce one of the most eclectic and exciting albums this reviewer has yet heard in 2013.
Let’s be clear about this: the 16 tracks on Speak end up covering ground equal to about half a record store. But happily Mase avoids the most common trap that typical genre-jumping albums fall into. Occasionally when artists release a record like this, the whole thing feels empty, as though its creator is just running through the motions, checking musical styles off a list in order to appease the widest audience possible. That is precisely not what Mase is doing here. Yes, the genre experimentation on this record is positively mind-bending – Mase transitions from airy spoken-word monologues to a dirty Patti Smith-style rocker like “Piece of Peace” to a kind of cheeky yet still meaningful reggae tune like “AnnaRexia” with no difficulty. The difference here is that Mase truly feels like she belongs in each of these genres. She embraces each style she attacks with aplomb, and the result is truly rewarding.
Mase’s backup for this project, the Afrobeat/soul group the Tomas Doncker Band, must also be applauded. They seem up for any style Mase can throw at them, from the Madonna-in-the-jungle vibe of “Lioness” to the Stones/KISS marriage of “Queen of Imperfection” to the perfect Lilith Fair-esque lilt of “New Cell Phone.” Given the impressive pedigree of Doncker and his players, this collaboration with Mase seems like a match made in Heaven.
For me what’s really impressive about Speak is how ably it convinces listeners that it’s worth their time. The multitude of genres represented on this record are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t typically find myself seeking out spoken-word music, for instance. But the opening punch of “Scream (reprise)” and “Piece of Peace” guaranteed that I’d welcome the rest of the record with open arms. I think that, as long as listeners can find any one foothold here (and there are many to be found), they’ll have no trouble enjoying the rest of the record.
In sum, there’s an earnestness and honesty here that makes Mase’s music attractive regardless of one’s genre proclivities; the soul behind each of these tracks is immediately apparent. Rather than feel like a tawdry excuse to tour popular (and not-so-popular) music genres, then, Mase’s collection of songs employs its diversity in the best way possible – to showcase a wide range of emotions and experiences. This album feels satisfying not just because it covers so much ground, but because every step feels earned. Put simply, this is a winner.
Get more from Marla Mase on her website.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more