Meshell Ndegeocello | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Meshell Ndegeocello


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On her first two records, Meshell Ndegeocello backed up her soulful, buttered-rum voice and daughter-of-Larry Graham slap-and-pop bass playing with a sardonic strut--the big single from her 1993 debut, Plantation Lullabies, was a sidelong sneer called "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)," and the highlight of 1996's Peace Beyond Passion was a delicious cover of Bill Withers's classic arched-eyebrow jealousy song "Who Is He and What Is He to You." But with her 1999 release, Bitter, Ndegeocello broke from that cocksure pose--and from the whomping funk rock that had gone with it. Out in front of a hushed, autumnal, largely acoustic backdrop, frequently augmented by strings, she sounded raw and vulnerable, mapping out a failed relationship in starkly confessional lyrics. Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape (forthcoming in March on Maverick) doesn't expose so many of her nerve endings, but the audacity of its arrangements more than compensates: on the ballad "Trust," with guest vocalist Caron Wheeler (formerly of Soul II Soul), a miles-deep piano-and-bass figure segues unexpectedly into a few bars of lushly orchestrated jazz, then snaps back just as suddenly to the original feel. Ndegeocello also revisits the righteous pugnaciousness of her early work, atop the strongest, deepest grooves of her career--e.g., "Priorities 1-6," which disses materialistic tropes ("Bills, bills, and automobills"), and the ghetto plaint "Dead Nigga Blvd." Ndegeocello will lead a seven-piece band at this gig; onstage she's effortlessly charismatic--and did I mention her bass playing? Saturday, December 8, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sheryl Nields.

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