By Precinct Reporter News
Ford Theatres presents visionary vocalist and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello who performs songs from her GRAMMY®-nominated album Ventriloquism, as well as a selection of her favorites, on Saturday, July 13 at 8:00 pm as part of its IGNITE @ the FORD! series.
Musically, Ventriloquism has the hallmarks of all of Ndegeocello’s work — lush and investigative, subversive and sublime. As always, she pays tribute to her diverse influences and in these cover songs, listeners hear them layered over one another. The reimagining deconstructs and comments on the narrow expectation of sound and structure for black artists and black music, while offering a musical refuge during these uncertain times. Ventriloquism is released 25 years after her GRAMMY®-nominated debut album Plantation Lullabies.
In awarding Ndegeocello the 2019 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts prize for music, Vijay Iyer called her, “a rare constellation in the artistic firmament, whose generosity of spirit defies the confines of genre and whose work dwells in both darkness and deliverance.”
Chuck Arnold in The New York Post said of Ventriloquism, “She arrived at the concept for the LP — on which she radically reinvents such classics as Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’ and George Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog’ — during a difficult period about two and a half years ago when her father, saxophonist Jacques Johnson, passed away . . . this is a record about, and full of, transformation. These are well-loved songs that Ndegeocello loves a little bit more, singing them with a rich, warm tone (she’s never sounded better) and backed by a band who know how to anticipate every bob and weave she might make. It’s one of her best.”
Ndegeocello herself said, “I would go to my parents’ house, and my mother’s car radio only played the oldies station. So I just was listening to all the songs I grew up with. I’d be awash in memories . . . those are all the songs I would listen to at my parents’ house to make me feel better.”
She said a Billboard interview, “The covers idea was more so the result of a very intense year I experienced with the death of a parent and the dementia of another. And it was nice to just sit with tunes that you love and you know in and out in an emotional way. It was cathartic for me to try to give them another life, these songs.”
Charlotte Richardson Andrews said in The Guardian said, “These are bold offerings – creative, unpredictable and rich with Ndegeocello’s sensual contralto. There is intention here, a subtle, transformative magic . . . there’s no denying the originality on offer here, from this rightly revered music game outlier.”
Brad Nelson of Pitchfork said, “A cover is an act of scholarship, an act of criticism, an act of intimacy. An act of love. Tackling a range of R&B radio hits from the 1980s and 1990s, Meshell Ndegeocello treats the practice of covering another’s songs as an act of intimacy and empathy. She doesn’t perform these songs as much as she renovates them from surface to center, peeling away wallpaper, pushing furniture around, crumpling and discarding any unnecessary dimensional space until she figures out what kind of room the song is.”
Thomas Inskeep in Spin said, “Prince’s ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’ is the centerpiece of the album, a fitting tribute as we approach the second anniversary of his death. Ndegeocello’s take is . . . hushed, almost religious — you know the line in ‘Maria,’ from West Side Story, ‘Say it soft, and it’s almost like praying’? That’s the impact here: it sounds like a prayer to and for Prince.”
Ventriloquism is a place, like its process, to take refuge from one storm too many. “The year around the recording of this album was so disorienting and dispiriting for me personally and for so many people I know and spoke to all the time,” she said. “I looked for a way to make something that was light while things around me were so dark, a musical place to go that reminded me of another, brighter time.”
“Early on in my career, I was told to make the same kind of album again and again, and when I didn’t do that, I lost support. There isn’t much diversity within genres, which are ghettoizing themselves, and I liked the idea of turning hits I loved into something even just a little less familiar or formulaic. It was an opportunity to pay a new kind of tribute.”
This event is part of IGNITE @ the FORD!, a series comprised of world-renowned contemporary artists whose work is thought provoking and reflects the world in which we live. Proceeds from IGNITE @ the FORD! events benefit the Ford Theatre Foundation. Tickets are available online at FordTheatres.org and by phone (323) 461-3673. Ford Theatres is located at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, CA 90068.
This article originally appeared in the Precinct Reporter Group News.