Tanika Charles Lends Beautiful Vocal Delivery to Smooth Soul Sound on ‘Papillon de Nuit’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Tanika Charles is a Canadian soul singer who has been nominated twice for a JUNO award and it’s easy to see why. On her first two albums Soul Run and The Gumption, she showed that she can lay down some serious grooves with a voice that is on par with the greats of soul. Not only that, but she showed that it’s pretty difficult to envision her in any job other than soul singer. 

Like everyone (and touring musicians in particular), Charles found her usual routine completely disrupted by the pandemic. She found herself unable to tour to support her most recent album The Gumption. Of the pandemic and the new album Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly, Charles said, “I was in some dark places. My energy was stagnant and the only reliable constant was this perpetual uncertainty. I had gone from feeling like I was everywhere to only being in one place. From seeing so many new faces, to only my own, in the mirror, everyday and having to face that. Getting back to work on music allowed me to explore these feelings through the format I know best. And I wanted to make sure that when things were ready to resume, I’d be ready with something new for my audience too.” Considering her last album was released in 2019, her fans were probably ready for something new.

“Hold Me like a Grudge” has earmarks of a love song. It has a groovy rhythm that’s good for dancing and a bright melody that would stand up next to some of the best soul love songs. But when you hear the lyrics, you realize that this is at best a song about troubled love. “You hold me like a grudge, you do. Closer than an enemy, until I’m crushed by you.” The words of the song are carefully chosen and provide a real punch to the gut when the listener may expect a sweet love song.

That theme of struggling in a relationship is a recurring theme on the album. “Don’t Be So Entitled” is another example. Over a deliberate rhythm and a hushed melody, she sings, “You take my heart and run. How can you say you love me now?” It’s the story of someone who feels like they are not seen in the relationship that should be their most meaningful. You can feel the longing not just for a certain someone, but also for feeling needed.

“Different Morning” is a change-up from the rest of the soul songs on the album. With the melody and the beat, this one has something of a disco feel, particularly at the end of the song where the vocals “You and me, we belong together” are repeated and spacey. The one thing that isn’t different is the smooth delivery of the vocals. You get the sense that Charles could sing a physics textbook and make it sound good. This is a song that conjures images of people with martinis grooving on plush couches in a dark lounge.

“Paintbrush and a Palette” is a standout song for a lot of reasons. For one, it’s hard not to groove to the rhythm and the piano-heavy melody. Another thing that stands out about this song is the wordplay surrounding the colors (“Let’s mingle, periwinkle” and “Let’s vibe a bit, violet”). Fittingly for the title, Charles paints a picture with her words. While a lot of songs reference being blue, she explores many more colors. For example, she describes her skin tone as mahogany with burnt sienna and her personality as hot magenta. A couple lines tie the whole song together. She sings, “If life is what you make it, you better make it stylish”, and follows that with “Show me your true colors, and I’ll mix ‘em all up with you.” It’s practically impossible to listen to this song without a grin on your face.

If you had to describe this album with just one word, smooth would be a good choice. Her vocal delivery is beautifully even. She can hit all the right notes seemingly without any effort. The melodies and rhythms will probably remind you of your favorite old-time soul records.

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