Lulu Fall Remains Not Your Typical Jazz Vocalist On R&B Focused “Between Two Worlds” (Album Review)

One look at the colorful visage of Lulu Fall on the cover of Between Two Worlds suggests she’s not your typical jazz vocalist. In fact, pop her CD into iTunes and “soundtrack” comes up. Look her up in All Music Guide and the descriptor “stage and screen” comes up.  That’s perfectly explicable, however, as Fall alternates with musical theater productions and music. Originally based in D.C., the formally Michigan State trained jazz vocalist Fall now resides in New York where she can take advantage of both worlds.  We use the latter two words in more than one context as we speak about Fall, who has Sengalese and Cameroonian parents and a healthy dose of American sensibilities too. This is her fourth recording and her second full-length, a genre-defying melding of jazz and contemporary R&B about extremes whether they be personalities sonics, or content. She’s a first-generation African-American, not American enough for her American friends and not African enough for her African family.  Her inner turmoil is vulnerably exposed as is her songwriting versatility. Production credits go to five different combinations across the brief eight tracks.

Gleaning the song titles provides strong insight as to what Fall sings about. Besides the opening title track, we have these – “Keep Your Head Up,” “Do You Love Me?”, “She,” “Powerful,” “Runaway,” and “Where Are We Going?” Fall’s striking voice floats and soars above a powerful co-ed backing unit comprised mostly of musicians who have been aboard for her previous efforts. They are Kris Johnson (trumpet), Marcus Elliot (tenor sax), Vincent Chandler (trombone), Sasha Kashperko (guitar), Jon Dixon (keyboard), Darell “Red” Campbell (bass, key bass, organ), Nate Winn (drums), Lauren Johnson (percussion) and Christina Manceor (marimba). The album was recorded in Detroit where both Kris Johnson and Campbell produced/co-produced tracks, Johnson co-engineered and Campbell both mixed and mastered.

The opening title track has Fall wailing “I’m sick and tired of the voices in my head” over a funky beat before it builds into a multi-voiced outcry that diminishes as Fall articulates “between two worlds.” The segue into “Keep Your Head Up’ couldn’t be much more startling as it begins with piano chords that seemingly usher in a ballad that then morphs into beat-driven R&B. “Do You Love Me?” has the first prominent presence of horns as Fall takes it in a rapid tempo with her last shout “Do you love me?” seemingly lingering in mid-air. The longest track, “Now,” at close to six minutes follows in a cool, slow R&B tempo with production using echo to great effect before the horns join and build it out in ensemble fashion.

”She” is another that begins quietly with stark piano and sparse accompaniment to frame Fall’s powerful, emphatic vocal which eventually soars above the horns and background vocals, as it does on the previous tracks. “Powerful’” settles into a romantic, electronica-driven contemporary R&B groove. “Runaway” has a similar R&B feel and has Fall exhibiting impressive vocal range as she reaches into the high register. The closer, “Where Are we Going,” is the most African influenced with the vocals reminiscent of those Paul Simon recordings with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Musically, following two EPs, her debut full-length The Unpaved Road, was released in August 2017 with writing partner Kris Johnson. Awards include a finalist in the annual Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Jazz Competition and winner of the Mid-Atlantic Song Competition (MASC) for her songs “Fight” and “No Better” in the R&B category. Her single “Pretty For a Dark Girl” was a Top 5 winner in the R&B category of the Great American Song Contest.

This album will likely add even more cred to those wins. Fall may continue to straddle two worlds but lands smack on target in one – contemporary R&B.

Check out the recent premiere of the video for the title track -written and produced by Lulu Fall and Kris Johnson with video shot and edited by Matt Lima.

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