Purchase The Ballad of Purple St. James here
As reviewed by Andy Kellman
YahZarah’s fourth album could be heard as the third part of a trilogy that began with the Foreign Exchange‘s Leave It All Behind (2008) and continued with Nicolay’s City Lights, Vol. 2 (2009). Like those earlier albums, The Ballad of Purple St. James is driven by Nicolay and Phonte and involves input from members of the extended FE family, as well as Raphael Saadiq and Marsha Ambrosius. YahZarah had worked on and off with the duo for several years, but never in a concentrated burst like this. The album allows the singer and songwriter to flash her vocal and thematic flexibility in ways her previous albums did not. Most salient is “Why Dontcha Call Me No More,” a gracefully hurtling kiss-off. It could be covered by No Doubt and taken to the Top Ten, but it’s probable that the song would lose some of its bite. YahZarah, whose voice here resembles that of Gwen Stefani, albeit with none of the cutesiness, delivers one of the most commanding scorned-lover performances in recent memory. At the point where an ad-lib or something innocuous is expected, just as handclaps and “whoa-oh”s enter, she slips in an additional verse that begins with “I hope you have a little girl, and she’s the apple of your eye” — uh-oh — and ends with “I hope somebody makes her cry” and a vaguely brainsick laugh. There are other moments when the singer’s magnetic forthrightness is on display, as on the pulsing and intense “The Lie” (“If you gotta go through hell with somebody, why won’t you do it with me?”) and the prime Neptunes/Kelis-like “Change Your Mind” (“I can turn your world around in a heartbeat, and bring you to your knees again”). The more sensitive songs, including a gliding duet with Darien Brockington, a devotional ballad resembling a Teena Marie session in Memphis, and a gleaming Afrofuturist anthem, are just as affecting.