Published Sep 26, 2014The last album from internationally acclaimed vocalist/songwriter/keyboardist Elizabeth Shepherd was 2012's album of standards, Rewind. It was a sweet treat, but it's pleasing that she returns, with real success, to original composition on The Signal, her fifth album. Shepherd possesses a beautifully relaxed and unaffected vocal style, one a little suggestive of Sade. She's also a fluent keyboardist, concentrating on Rhodes here, and she has made real strides as a producer. Subtle musical touches from instruments as diverse as steel pan (on "B.T. Cotton"), flute, ngoni, kalimba and horns are incorporated tastefully, while vocal samples range from the sublime (Leadbelly, Mother Teresa) to the head-scratching (Laurie Brown).
She's accompanied by an A-list of Toronto players including Scott Kemp, Ross MacIntyre, Colin Kingsmore, Larnell Lewis, Kevin Turcotte, Joshua Van Tassel and Roman Tome. Another notable guest is guitarist Lionel Loueke (Angelique Kidjo, Herbie Hancock), who contributes tastefully to opening track "Willow." Stylistically, Shepherd fuses jazz and soul elements seamlessly, with the occasional trace of hip-hop being audible. Helping set her apart from peers is her willingness to tackle social, political and environmental issues, as on "Lion's Den" (forced marriages in Africa), "B.T. Cotton" (environmental damage) and "Another Day" (the murder of Trayvon Martin). You need to dig below the seductive musical surface to get the message, but it's worth the effort. (Linus)