Now a 20-year veteran of the music biz, bassist and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello recently brought her band to Joe's Pub to revisit a vital album from the midpoint of her career. Stream the whole set here.
Before You Press Play
Hometown: Born in Berlin, raised in Washington D.C., currently domiciled in Hudson, NY
The Facts: As the sun set on the 1990s, it wasn't clear what would become of Meshell Ndegeocello. At the start of the decade, she had come out swinging: a record deal with Madonna's then-newly launched Maverick label, three Grammy nominations for her '93 debut Plantation Lullabies, and big-time exposure as John Mellencamp's bass-slinging counterpart on a duet-style cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night." But by the turn of the century, those glints of mainstream glitter had faded, and the promising songwriter seemed all but doomed to obscurity.
That's what made 1999's Bitter such a surprise: on her third release, Ndegeocello abandoned the funk and spunk that had defined her early successes, and took a hard left into darker territory. Inspired by a real-life romantic relationship and its disastrous aftermath, Bitter was just what its title advertised: moody, mid-tempo numbers about life-cracking misery, which critics to this day credit with kicking off the 21st-century soul revival. For this show at Joe's Pub, Ndegeocello and her band recreated the better part of the album live, with a few other favorites thrown in for color.
The Sound: There are a handful of barnstormers here (listen for the wailing guitar solo that pops up around minute 26) -- but for the most part, the Bitter formula remains intact. Armed with a rich and utterly distinctive voice, Ndegeocello leads the band through a set of molasses-slow grooves from the days before neo-soul was officially a thing.
He Said, She Said: "Ndegeocello’s eighth LP, Devil's Halo, is something of a change of pace, in that it’s not an experiment in free jazz, hip-hop, spiritual verse, or any of the other subgenres she’s explored in recent years. But Devil’s Halo is hardly a straightforward R&B album, either. Running through 12 tracks in just over 35 minutes, Ndegeocello works her buttery voice between fat, fuzzy guitar riffs and spare percussion, crafting an album that relies on brief impressions—a flash of anger here, an expression of longing there, and a pervasive sensuality." - Noel Murray, A.V. Club
"In the search for love, truth and justice, a good vamp never hurts. That's the modus operandi of Meshell Ndegeocello." - Jon Pareles, The New York Times