DON'T BEWARE THIS STRANGER
Following an inspired reimagining of an old rare groove anthem, LA based singer Lady Blackbird prepares for her much anticipated forthcoming debut album ‘Black Acid Soul’. Maz Phiri caught up with her over Zoom.
I have a lot to thank Gilles Peterson for. He's introduced me to a lot of wonderful music and artists over the years. Just listening to his weekly 6 Music 6 Music show on a Saturday is not only a ritual but also an absolute delight and education in the same vein. Well, back in May he dropped a track that made me literally sit up and say “WTF IS THIS!..and how do I know it?”. I knew the lyrics and the song felt very familiar, but I didn’t know who the vocalist was and I’d certainly never heard this arrangement before.
What I heard that afternoon was a singer blessed with a bold, captivating and unmistakable voice and a style of her own. Turns out the talent was Lady Blackbird aka Marley Munroe a hotly tipped US Jazz vocalist who blew my mind as well as Gilles’Peter.
The song in question is 'Beware The Stranger' a reimagining of Voices of East Harlem’s 70s funk/soul anthem 'Wanted Dead Or Alive'. Which is without any shadow of a doubt a BANGER!! It was originally performed by a Chicago girl group called The Krystal Generation. The song however was made popular by the spectacular soul ensemble that is The Voices Of East Harlem. Their classic rare groove version was produced by Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield and provided the inspiration for this powerful, jazz-influenced version.
On ‘Beware The Stranger’ she takes the huge dance floor fave from the days of rare groove, spinning it around and flipping it completely on its head, also doing a lyrical gender flip to tell the story of a powerful woman not be messed with. As the track opens, the tempo drops, the mood becomes intimate and the story is told, in her inimitable style. There’s a stranger heading to town and if she crosses your path, she’s going to do you wrong!
Her forthcoming debut album 'Black Acid Soul' (which features ‘Beware The Stranger’) is a project by Ross Allen and producer Chris Seefried, featuring a stellar band including former Miles Davis pianist Deron Johnson. It presents a wholly fresh take on the jazz vocal idiom from an artist whose time has come.
Born and raised in Farmington, New Mexico, a. As a kid Marley remembers her parents listening to soul artists like Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Kool and the Gang and as well as gospel artists like Andraé Crouch. Her mother used to follow her around with a tape recorder when she realized her daughter could sing. Her mMum still has all the tapes of her as a small child singing and reciting various songs and nursery rhymes.
Her modest upbringing meant Marley performed at family gatherings, church, funerals, weddings and fairs and even sports events. All of those small-town things she’s grateful for because “they gave me my start” she says.
At the age of 12 Marley travelled back and forth to Nashville after signing with a Christian record label. Then aAs a teenager, she toured the U.S. performing in arenas with DC Talk's Toby Mac. “It all played a part in me finding out who I was," Marley says of her time in that world. "You're young and you're discovering new things about yourself and what makes you tick".
New York City eventually beckoned, capturing her imagination with its deep cultural and musical history. "I've never had a connection with any other city," she says. "I've never felt like I was home even at home. It was never there in Farmington. It was always New York. I've said it since I was a little girl."
At 21, after visiting many times over the years, the move was made to NYC, where she honed her craft as a lyricist and melody writer for several years.
Eventually her Los Angeles-based manager encouraged her to move out to California, which she did. "We hit the ground running and I’ve not looked back," she says. As a songwriter, Munroe has worked with some of the music industry's most prolific writers, including Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.
It was whilst in LA that the organic meeting of music and minds occurred bringing her, Chris Seefried and Ross Allen together. Which This would eventually lead to and produce ‘Black Acid Soul’ which in her words was all about takingsaw her strip everything away and presentting herself in the rawest of formats.
“It was about really building an album around my voice, as opposed to building my voice around a big production and just really coming out bare,” she explains. “.
That’s where it started and in talks about the jazz album we started pulling together these songs, getting an understanding of what it would sound like.”
When it came to her first single that also gave her the moniker she uses today, she turned to an old favourite record. “I came across ‘Blackbird’ years ago, the Nina Simone cover, and I absolutely loved it and it was what I brought to the table. I played it for Chris and he loved it”.
Lady Blackbird’s ‘Blackbird’, was released earlier this year – and if you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this enchanting interpretation of Nina Simone’s powerful civil rights anthem…if not, why not? And what are you waiting for?
This organic moment of genius was finished in one of the greatest studios on the planet, a blessing she says like the cherry on top. “Being in the legendary Studio B, (Prince’s room) in Sunset Sound with my band and Chris was a ground-breaking moment for me as an artist,” she says. . “It helped me find a way to express who I am now and marked the re-birth of me as Lady Blackbird.” She added: “It was Prince’s room and you look around, especially when you have been at it for a while, and you finally see the pieces finally coming together and feeling right.”
Hailed as the “Grace Jones of Jazz” by Gilles Peterson, Lady Blackbird has a growing legion of fans. “I had no idea who Lady Blackbird was until I was introduced to her music by Ross Allen who offered me the opportunity to remix one of her tracks,” says house legend and ‘Beware the Stranger’ remixer Ashley Beedle. “. I was extremely intrigued as to what her background was. After listening to the demos and final album version of 'Beware the Stranger', I was convinced that I was listening to a force of nature.” and the house legend Ashley Beedle had the following to say (who along with Darren Morris created a high calibre remix of ‘Beware The Stranger’. "I had no idea who Lady Blackbird was until I was introduced to her music by Ross Allen who offered me the opportunity to remix one of her tracks. I was extremely intrigued as to what her background was. After listening to the demos and final album version of 'Beware the Stranger', I was convinced that I was listening to a force of nature. Doing the remix with Darren Morris was an absolute pleasure. I'm really happy with the end result - the 'North Street West' remix. I’m looking forward to watching her rise." Ashley takes the original over to the dance floor with his signature strings and sumptuous keys. Which is a house classic remix of the highest order. “Doing the remix with Darren Morris was an absolute pleasure,” says Ashley. “I'm really happy with the end result - the 'North Street West' remix. I’m looking forward to watching her rise."
And rise she will because ‘Black Acid Soul’ is a great offering. Having worked with some of the biggest names in the business as a support and backup singer as well as flirting with a plethora of musical genres over the years, Lady Blackbird, is about to have her own moment and not before time. She’s been compared to the likes of Grace Jones and Celeste and reflecting influences as varied as Billie Holiday and Gladys Knight. But there really is only one Lady Blackbird – and she’s here to stay.