Teena Marie

Congo Square

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Inspired by discovering that some of her family roots are in New Orleans, a city with which she has long felt a deep spiritual connection, Teena Marie frames Congo Square around the Crescent City. It's her third solid album of the decade, but somewhat ironically, it's not on the New Orleans-based Cash Money, the home of 2004's La Doña and 2006's Sapphire, but Memphis' Stax. Like her two prior albums, Congo Square is a long, sprawling set of songs with plenty of room left for guests who share, never steal, the spotlight. Its center, naturally, is the title song, where Marie pays tribute to several generations of music legends (from Louis Armstrong to Erykah Badu), as well as the slaves who gathered to dance and play music at Congo Square. If anything, the whole set projects a sense of comfort, whether romantic or spiritual, maintaining a mellow sound that stimulates far more often than it does not. Singers half Marie's age could make a killing off some of the hooks, especially the ones deployed throughout the first four songs and "Milk 'n Honey," another showcase for her daughter Rose. What is most remarkable about Congo Square is how Marie continues to fly around in her private orbit, indulging her ambitious whims, while sounding every bit contemporary.

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