Bay Area songstress Goapele (which means "to move forward" in the South African language of Sitswana) has built up quite a following over the past few years through sold-out shows and eclectic collaborations with artists such as Zion I and labels such as Om Records. With her sophomore set, Change It All, the singer hopes to solidify her place in the neo-soul lexicon. With a title like this, the album is definitely light on provocative material. The good news is that Goapele is an extremely likeable singer and songwriter with a natural ability to carry a tune and a penchant for socially conscious lyrics, and Change It All is a solid effort of well-constructed soul.
Goapele has a soft and appealing voice that works well with the album's mellow grooves. She never overextends herself, and on the best tracks there is a sense of peacefulness that runs through her. This is definitely music from Sade's school of soul, with light vocals over equally airy productions dominating the sound. The tracks are a mixture of velvety love songs and thought-provoking commentary. The title track laments, "Basically there are people left out/ From living comfortably/ Can we figure it out/ I've been waiting restlessly for the words to a song/ To change it all." Backed by a tinkling piano and chunky break, the song touches on current affairs, including the war, the state of education and the plight of the poor. "Find a Way" finds the singer in conscious mode again, albeit riding a more aggressive beat, and "If We Knew" is a charming look at how our experiences as a child affect our lives as adults. But despite the album's title and several interludes with regular people voicing their political concerns, the majority of the album falls back on tried-and-true neo-soul recipes. This isn't entirely a bad thing, though: Goapele seems right at home in mid-tempo funky grooves.
The album's best tracks are "Different," featuring Clyde Carson, and "Good Love," produced by Jill Scott-collaborators Sa-Ra Creative Partners. The former is the album's funkiest selection, thanks to a pounding bass kick and gruff rhymes by Carson; the latter hits a similar note with its sensual groove and deep bass line. Goapele's attempts at stretching beyond the safety of her neo-soul sound aren't nearly as successful. The pop-funk of "Love Me Right" and the Linda Perry-produced "Darker Side of the Moon" are ambitious, but they simply do not fit with the gentle rhythms found throughout the album.
To be certain, Goapele is an artist of considerable talent, and she seems able to combine her awareness of culture and social issues with a diverse musical sensibility, and this is a pleasant addition to any soul collection. It probably won't change it all, but it will make for a good listen and may even make you think about the state of the world. And that's definitely more than a lot of albums do these days.
Columbia Records Web site
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