It is not really a stretch to discern the fact that Lauren Henderson – with her smoky, dark vibrato – is in the process of revealing a shapeshifting musical persona, inadvertantly positioning herself in the steamy spotlight as the Empress of Noir. And as Miss Henderson continues to be propelled on the upward arc of a spectacular parabolic artistic trajectory she draws [justifiably, in my view] parallel [close enough really] to no less a legend than Marlene Dietrich, the Queen of Noir from another era.
However, on the album she calls Conjuring, Miss Henderson has carved a niche of sorts for herself. She plumbs the depths of her Pan African-Caribbean-American heritage. [For the record, Miss Dietrich plumbed the dark side of wartime Germany of the late-30’s and 40’s]. Miss Henderson also draws strength from the spirit world and makes music as if pulling spells out of the burning cauldron of her dark and spellbinding voice, to seduce you into her world of love-potions.
Miss Henderson’s voice is monotonal and tremulous, which is unlike Miss Dietrich’s, which is almost monotonal and flat, sans tremolo. Both vocalists are, however, highly seductive [in their own way], and when she [Miss Henderson] holds notes interminably, with her teary vibrato she turns herself into a rare songbird, and quite irresistible.
Magic may be the theme and the overall metaphor and because of her distinctive vocal style, Miss Henderson turns these songs [a judicious mix of originals and standards] quite literally, into mystical essays in the art of musical theatre. Her voice is like an acoustic blooms in the dark. It brings every song to flower, often redolent of the golden radiance of the vibraphone on which Joel Ross performs to perfection. Everything here is luminescent and even as the rumbling contrabass of Eric Wheeler, which coaxes fat, round and dark – but iridescent – notes from his magnificent instrument.
Miss Henderson sings songs – such as Spells, Coerción, Daydream and I Wish You Love – with aching luminosity as Miss Henderson sings them with fine legato and just enough to the words to make you fall prey to their bittersweetness. Every aspect of thematic sadness is amplified, to brings characters to life and bring you to tears. As spellbindingly dark and shadowy as Miss Henderson wants you to imagine her world, by breathing her wispy spirit into the songs she frees you from their sadness with exquisitely classical pathos.
While the songs speak to Miss Henderson in an incredibly special way, it is remarkable that she can share – perhaps even impose – her mystical worldview on ‘love’ and ‘loss’ with every member of her musical entourage. As a result, each of the musicians, having imbibed the singer’s artistic vision and interiorized the music, perform with sensitive and idiomatic brilliance.
YouTube Playlist – Lauren Henderson: Conjuring
Music – 1: Spells; 2: That Old Black Magic; 3: Conjuring; 4: Es Magia; 5: Coerción; 6: Daydream; 7: Potions; 8: Amuleto; 9: It’s Magic; 10: I Wish You Love.
Musicians – Lauren Henderson: vocals; Joel Ross: vibraphone; Eric Wheeler: contrabass; Joe Dyson: drums; Gabe Schneider: guitar [4, 5]; Nick Tanura: guitar [7, 9]; Sean Mason: piano [1 – 3, 6, 8, 10]; John Chin: piano [4, 5, 9].
Released – 2023
Label – Brontosaurus Records
Runtime – 44:52