Queen Alone is the triumphant return of soultress Nicole Wray. Once the protégé of Missy Elliot, Wray is a singer whose talent has long gone unrecognised. Three years on from her collaboration with UK singer-songwriter Terri Walker, Lady – and 18 years since her last solo project, Make It Hot – Wray has come good yet again.
If you’re familiar with Lee Fields & the Expressions, Myron & E, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings or Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators, then you will adore Wray’s retro-soul sound. Just like the aforementioned artists, this is music made with live instruments, buckets of experience and good, old-fashioned heart.
Wray’s peachy, American drawl has touches of Jean Knight (‘Underneath My Feet’) and Aretha Franklin (‘Make Me Over’). She bears her soul on story of a down-and-out, ‘They Won’t Hang Around’, hits you with stirring cries on ‘Do It Again’, and lifts you on up with Curtis Mayfield-like candour on ‘Let It Go’. The instrumentals, meanwhile, bring heady bursts of life with each guitar phrase (‘Smiling’) and rocksteady drum beat (‘Guilty’).
It feels unjust that, after being the victim of major label mistreatment in her early years and rising above it with perseverance and grace, Wray still does not receive half the attention she so sorely deserves. Filled with the vibrant emotion and timeless rhythm of the 1960s, this record is a masterclass in soul music.
Queen Alone is out now on Big Crown Records.
[This review was first published on aaronlee.co.uk, Dec 11, 2016.]
Image: Big Crown Records