Over a decade ago, rappers Chuck D and Public Enemy asked, "Who Stole the Soul?" Today, after Christina Aguilera's R&B-infused Back To Basics double CD and the Amy Winehouse soul explosion, the real question is, "Who stole it back?" Part of the answer can be found in Lorraine Reid's single "How Can I Keep Him Lovin' Me?"
It always comes as a surprise when I hear a modern R&B singer who has both the pipes to belt out with intensity and the good taste to let the song tell the story, choosing to not over-saturate a classic melody with vocal gymnastics. Reid dazzles her listeners with the perfect balance of vocals, just like the classic soul, rock and pop singers did back in the day. This timeless track by the Canadian, 7-time Juno nominee would fit right in with the best of soul and funk in any age.
"How Can I Keep Him Lovin' Me?" begins to amaze listeners with its instrumentals -- the keyboard starts with mellow soul chords and is followed by gently plucked guitar and sparse bass that flows with restrained energy even while in ballad mode. The drums play a beat that has previously anchored old pop and soul songs as well as bawdy stripper show tunes; it's a beat that is part-waltz, part-easy-going phat back groove. While this stew is bubbling, Ms. Reid tells the story: "No more than 15 but grown before her time / This young girl was seekin' love from men who would dim the lights / How can I keep him lovin' me? / Here she was still seeking love / it was no where to be found." Aside from the modern beat of the drums and the contemporary soul sound, the track is undeniably old school because it deals with real people and real-life issues, concepts that are often lost in mainstream music today.
The sales of R&B records -- as with those of hip-hop and most other genres -- continue to slump. Illegal downloads aside, the vast majority of these records deal with unattainable fantasies of sex, glamour, white linen suits and matching Bentleys. People who have just been laid off, had their benefits run out, or their home foreclosed don't want to hear about such lavish topics. And they can't even afford to buy overpriced CDs, anyway. That's why real people, especially women, like Mary J. Blige's tales of being a survivor. Like Blige, Reid tells a tale of survival and, like the best soul and gospel singers, past and present, she goes beyond this simple tale: "At 22, a mom of two, but she was still a child / Her mama's advice to her was a message meek and mild / what this baby boy sees in you I tried my whole life to find / so dry your tears, my baby girl, you're lookin' at piece of mind." Throughout the song, Reid's vocals follow the lyrics and melody on a rollercoaster of emotion, saving the soaring peaks of her sweet yet powerful voice for the pinnacles of the song, especially the last lines. By the end of "How Can I Keep Him Lovin' Me?", the sadness becomes both redemption and a spiritual epiphany -- all because of the power of love. Now ain't that what soul music is all about?