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Josephine Mills - This Is Love [Review - OffBeat]

(Orleans Records)

One of the great things about being involved in the music business, if only parasitically, is the chance to hear fresh voices. Orleans Records has one with Josephine Mills; the local label is best known for giving a home to urban blues mavericks and Crescent City funkateers, but there's a very modern type of R&B star in the making here.

Her debut, This Is Love, finds her stumbling just a little on her way out of obscurity, and the main problem lies in the songwriting - most of these ten originals were penned by Mills alone, and her craft is fairly generic, as the lackluster opening of "Dance With Me" proves. Her emotional commitment deepens throughout the album, however, so while she's still given to clichés that slip out of your mind as quickly as they arrive, she eventually begins to succeed in creating vague yet seductive moods to wrap her impressive yet low-key vocal chops around. Mills is definitely a neoclassicist in the mold of Alicia Keys or Erykah Badu; she's not living in the musical past, but she's also not indulging in those appallingly blues-free vocal gymnastics that pass for soul these days.

There's no hip-hop here, as might be expected from a new R&B artist; Mills' approach is decidedly jazzier and imbued with the spirit of New Orleans funk on tracks like "Dance With Me" and "Do A Little More," even if the latter details what you need to do in order to "roll with" her. The title track is darkly insinuating, as Mills soars over popping bass, keyboard filigrees and Spanish guitar, while "Don't Wait For Me" is excellent modern-day Soulquarian torch music. The real stand-out, however , is the slow burn of "Being Myself," where the singer conjures up an electronically treated version of classic Atlantic-label, Aretha while Allen Poche lays down gently distorted guitar runs that sound like Ernie Isley gone classical. Josephine Mills may not have launched herself into the first rank of modern soul vixens with this debut, but she's certainly skipped over a number of rungs on the ladder. Hear her now, and believe her later.

--- Robert Fontenot


Originally published in OffBeat [May 2003], pg. 160


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