Long Way Back

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The debut full-length from hip-hop journeywoman T-Love is a stew pot of styles and concepts that succeeds in challenging the listener's preconceived notions of urban music. Mixing jazz and spoken word with standard hip-hop, T-Love builds on the stylings of such genre forerunners as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and India.Arie, all the while forging her own brand of soul fusion. Love shows her ability to throw her voice like an instrument, conjuring up images of the late greats (Billie Holiday for one), but realistically, her singsong vocal patterns are more reminiscent of modern female jazz interpreters such as Melba Moore and even Diana Krall. T-Love flips up styles faster than a jackrabbit accelerates, using an impressionistic approach on the bilingual "Swing Malindy" and more typical hip-hop projections on standout cuts like "Witch-Bitch?" and "Wanna-Beez," featuring Chali 2na of Jurassic 5. The best results occur when Love is paired with Slum Village protégé Dwele; Dwele's buttery baritone offsets Love's jittery flows for smashing results on the title cut and "Seven." The production efforts are also often superior here, including a number of smooth compositions from Motown maestro Jay Dee. The experimentation on Long Way Back is admirable simply because it is different from the norm, but it also makes the recording hard to get a handle on and detracts from its overall accessibility. At the end of the day, though, this is a worthy effort.

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