Shakura S'Aida Brown Sugar

Powerhouse blues vocalist S'Aida is thankfully no longer a well-kept secret. Those on the Toronto, ON blues scene have known of her talent for quite some time, and word has now spread to Europe. She tours there regularly and this, her second album, is out on German label Ruf. It's a major step forward from her 2006 debut, Blueprint, a record mostly featuring her takes on blues classics. Now, she steps forward as a songwriter, in partnership with fiery guitarist Donna Grantis (they co-wrote ten of the 12 cuts). She proves convincing as a writer, while her force-of-nature voice is in top form. This was recorded in Tennessee, with famed producer Jim Gaines (Carlos Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan), using three of his regular players, plus Grantis and Canadian organ ace Lance Anderson. S'Aida was clearly inspired by the Southern setting, as seen on "Outskirts Of Memphis." Tracks like "Sweet Spot," "Mr. Right" and "Brown Sugar" have a raunchy feel, while "Angels On High" is a ballad with emotional heft. And she lets it all hang out on six-minute-long scorcher "Gonna Tell My Baby." A fine effort. (Ruf)