Blue Velvet Soul

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Released less than two years after Motions of Love, Blue Velvet Soul also follows the passing of Maysa's mother and the extended bout of writer's block that ensued. Going by the varied strengths of Blue Velvet Soul, one wouldn't know that the singer pulled herself out of a creative rut. Maysa gets some help from familiar and new songwriting and production collaborators, including Incognito's Bluey, Chris "Big Dog" Davis, and Lorenzo Johnson. One of three Bluey collaborations, "Good Morning Sunrise," is a gorgeous and plush midtempo duet, among a handful of highlights from the album's mostly relaxed front half. More notable standouts are saved for the album's back half, which continually shifts gears in pleasing ways. "Quiet Fire," written by Johnny "Hammond" Smith and Cheryl Friberg for Nancy Wilson's 1988 album Nancy Now!, is a surprising and inspired choice and should be a deathless staple of any contemporary quiet storm program. "This Much," produced my Mike City, recalls early-'90s house with its piano-led groove and uplifting spirit. Another Bluey tune, "Nothing But You," begins like an homage to disco-funk band GQ prior to unspooling into airy but confident pure disco. The album is laced with lyrical phrases that are likely to ping a soul fanatic's radar -- "hangin' on a string," "young hearts run free," "here, my dear," "let a woman be a woman, and a man be a man," and so forth -- but they all float by inconspicuously, like it's all happenstance, just part of another enjoyable and all-purpose Maysa album.

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