Some months ago I heard the first news suggesting that Liv Warfield was preparing a new album (which is her second in studio, after Embrace me, released in 2006). Since I am following the career of Prince since the mid 80s, and given that Liv has been part of Prince’s band, The New Power Generation, for some time, I was curious to know how that album would sound like. And my curiosity was mainly focused on two aspects: first, what would be the music style in this album; and second, what would be the role of Prince in it.
Late in 2013, we had two advanced singles from this album, the very lively Why do you lie and Catch me if you can. And while both display the tremendous singing capabilities of Liv, I couldn’t avoid to miss some more substance backing the demonstration that she’s got a power station in her throat.
So when I finished listening to this album for the first time, I was quite amazed (in a positive manner) by the answer to both curiosities:
As for the music style, let’s say that she goes in many different directions in The Unexpected, but there is always an underlying theme: there is energy aplenty, not only in the voice, but also in the emphasis. Liv is possibly one of the best singers of her generation, and this album is a further statement to evidence such a fact: her technical abilities are outstanding, and on top of that she is an excellent performer onstage (if you want additional proof, just watch her show of Why do you lie at the Jimmy Fallon show, to name a brilliant example). Obviously she has fully exploited in her benefit the experience of several years doing backing vocals in a world-class band such as Prince’s. And there’s more: Liv has written or co-written most of the tracks in this album, and has also been working in the production in collaboration with Ryan Waters and Tyrone Hendrix. In other words, she is not only a most talented singer: she is creating music too.
Now, let’s go to the second topic: the credits of this album mention that Prince is the “executive producer”. This term always leads to some confusion in music, and when it is used next to a name as bold as “Prince”, then one might infer it means that the whole album will have a strong purple flavor, with its good and bad sides: Prince appearing in any album is always a guarantee of media attention, and it can mean there will be great music touched by his golden hands; but it can also mean that Prince’s influence will soak the whole album in such a way that it can hide the other artists characters.
Fortunately, this is not the case in The Unexpected: Prince is the executive producer, and there are -officially- two songs with Prince input, The unexpected and Your show. But still Liv manages to create a cohesive piece of work, where her musical personality is the center and the rest of elements (from the great musicianship of all players to Prince’s involvement) are contributing to enhace the final result, rather than being scattered bits of brilliance. But make no mistake: listen closely with the focus on any instrument and you will hear fantastic players. This is “real music by real musicians” as someone said once upon a time, and may I add, with one of those real singers which do not abound in these sad days of Mileys and the like. Liv’s band, The Black Birds, is composed by Ryan Waters, Tyrone Hendrix, Marquay Seamster, Chris Turner, Saeeda Wright and Ashley Seamster; besides, the NPG Hornz appear prominently along the record (providing also a couple of instrumental tracks to begin and to end, courtesy of Roy Agee & Jeff Bailey).
The album is well worth to explore, yet surprisingly to me, the highlights are more often among the slow numbers. It is particularly striking the case of Your show, a Prince song almost certainly lifted from the sessions for Bria Valente’s only album: the whole vibe of the song sounds very similar to Elixer (and actually, instruments are played by New Power Generation, unlike the rest of the album); however, to compare Liv’s to Bria’s “singing” would be unfair and almost obscene, given the huge difference between both voices. Let’s be polite to Bria and just say that Liv demonstrates how to make good use of the tasteful writing of Your show.
But let’s not forget there are other songs which (at least in theory) don’t have any relationship with Prince, and are very enjoyable. The catchiest tunes are Why do you lie, Blackbird or Lena blue, where Liv’s voice reigns supreme; but I’m particularly fond of other songs: Don’t say much and its beautiful melody, with a dynamic range to dream for in many current compositions; Stay-”Soul lifted” and Come back, classical ballads showing an exquisite taste in the phrasing, and with a proper and effective production to exhibit the magnificence of Liv’s singing; or Fly, the bonus track closing the album with imaginative rhythms and a haunting melody fully illuminated by Liv.
To summarize, this is an extremely solid album from a big promise in black music (and I say that with my highest respect). I for one will attentively follow the next projects from Liv Warfield, as she demonstrates with The Unexpected that she deserves close attention.
This review is also available in Spanish here.