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Elizabeth Shepherd: The Signal

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Following in the footsteps of José James and countrywoman Kellylee Evans, Canadian vocalist and keyboardist Elizabeth Shepherd moves steadily toward a more funkified sound, mixing jazz with a whole lotta soul (and occasional hip-hop shadings) on her latest release. Inspired by the birth of her daughter, the album’s 10 originals all speak to various aspects of the human condition, stressing survivalism, empowerment and, ultimately, hope.

Alongside a shifting assortment of players anchored by drummer Colin Kingsmore and bassist Ross MacIntyre, with guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke guesting on three tracks, Shepherd blends bold statements and gentler sentiments to maximum effect. The tranquil “This” speaks to life’s inevitabilities, while the jagged “On Our Way” promotes breaking rules built to oppress. The otherworldly “I Gave,” complete with a Mother Teresa sample, examines sacrifice for the greater good, and “Another Day” draws upon the L.A. riots that erupted after the Trayvon Martin tragedy to more widely address victimhood. The metronomic “B.T. Cotton,” bookended by a Lead Belly sample and a cunning nod to Harry Belafonte’s “Jump Down, Spin Around,” questions the ongoing oppression of cotton workers, extending to the mass farmer suicides of India’s Vidarbha region. The closing “Baby Steps” finds hope, imagining a more peaceable if hard-won future. Most curious-though no less effective-is the title track, a hypnotic duologue between Shepherd and Alex Samaras, with a narrative about an assignation that alternates between spontaneity and regret.

Originally Published