Published Jan 27, 2015Virginia-bred and California-based Stephanie Nicole's 2013 debut EP, Voices, hinted at an artist intent on pushing soul into the most avant-garde territory. The comparisons to Erykah Badu were hard to avoid, but on her long-awaited debut, Soulutionary One, the classically trained Nicole establishes herself as a significant figure in her own right. It would be disingenuous to classify the broad ranging and often new age-flavoured music here (co-written and co-produced with Craig Perkins, aka Classroom Craig) as mere "neo-soul."
Opener "Diligence" sets an ominous vibe with its allusions to corruption and government surveillance, yet it smartly avoids any traces of didacticism, and when Nicole declares that "solidarity is a must" with her determined and ample voice, it's a stirring call to resiliency both musical and political. Tracks like the spiritual, inward-looking Eastern pulse of "Maha Meditation" the reggae bouncer "Cartographic College," the yearning acoustic folk-soul of "Just Love Her" and the dynamic kiss-off of "Now You're Here" are especially potent examples of Nicole's freewheeling and, at times, challenging eclecticism. It takes a few spins to fully absorb, but Soulutionary One is an impressive effort that makes one eager with anticipation for Stephanie Nicole's future. (BBE)