Lion Babe

Begin

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AllMusic Review by

New York-based duo Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman started inching toward stardom when they uploaded their first track in 2012. "Treat Me Like Fire" was a flirtatious and assured introduction to their left-of-center, slightly retro form of R&B. Rooted in a rare soul side that had appeared on a compilation issued by the Now-Again and Truth & Soul labels, the latter of which employed Goodman as an audio engineer for Lee Fields and Lady sessions, the song led to support from subcultural gatekeepers like Afropunk and Saint Heron and a major-label deal. A little over three years after that first upload, a period that involved a batch of singles, an EP, a slew of club remixes, and a fine Disclosure collaboration, Hervey and Goodman completed Begin, their debut album. Hervey takes cues from forthright soul-funk greats like Chaka Khan, Betty Wright, and Betty Davis, but she has a gentler character that's her own, whether she's singing of body positivity, seducing without compromising herself, or serving up would-be skipping rhymes. Just as crucially, she and Goodman don't act as if innovations in R&B ceased before they were born; most of these songs are as modern sounding as anything aired on radio stations classified as mainstream urban. Hervey never adjusts her style to angle for crossover success, but a couple pairings with higher-profile outside producers don't rate with her and Goodman's best solitary work. "Wonder Woman" isn't among Pharrell Williams' strongest peacocking funk numbers, and "Where Do We Go," a busy hybrid of spiraling disco and twitching hip-hop made with Anjulie Persaud, Robin Hannibal, and Itai Shapira, is a mismatch suited better for a vocalist with a bigger voice. Both songs preceded the album as singles, and neither one charted. Likewise, "Jump Hi," one of the album's several songs about independence, is disrupted by a Childish Gambino verse. Indeed, Begin resonates most when Hervey and Goodman are left to themselves.

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