Happy 15th Anniversary to Tweet’s Southern Hummingbird, originally released April 2, 2002.
Traditionally, good soul albums have always found their place of comfort detailing the anger and hurt stemming from betrayal or the uncontrollable passions once quarreling lovers are moved to reconcile. Some of the most memorable moments of this litany are created when songwriters dare to capitalize on the dicey moments in between, and 15 years ago Charlene “Tweet” Keys’ debut album Southern Hummingbird managed to capture all the specifics amidst the emotional rollercoaster between the break-up and the make-up.
In the age before our attention was completely captured by the advancements of the internet and advent of social media, during a time when you may have actually taken the time to enjoy an album, movie or even a good book, Southern Hummingbird opened like a Zane novel that explicitly walked us through the precarious footsteps of a recently scorned woman.
The album’s soulfully savvy songwriting and stellar production created the perfect lead protagonist, who sobbed all the way to the local convenience store for a pack of cigarettes as her patience wore thin from the absence of her male love interest. Placed early on the track-list, “Smoking Cigarettes” sets the tone for the vivid brand of emotional storytelling set to complement the sultry vocals of the songbird now grounded by the burden of a bruised ego.
A later chapter of this erotic novel, “Motel” justifies the main character’s episode of chain smoking when she spots her man attempting to sneak off for some extracurricular late night action. Arguably one of the most overlooked moments of the musical time period, Tweet’s voice not only soars but bridges the soul gap alongside Funk icons Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, as her lyrics cleverly pay homage not only to their 1979 classic “Good Times” but the Sugarhill Gang’s classic hip-hop recreation “Rapper’s Delight” as well.
Taking another page from Chic’s brand of “Risqué,” Tweet finds the cure for sexual frustration in personal pleasuring with the album’s lead-off single and biggest hit “Oops (Oh My).” Over the Timbaland track that proved to be one of the best produced songs of 2002, the earthy lyrics assisted by her mentor Missy Elliott were enough to make Millie Jackson blush, but more importantly, added a bold and fresh perspective to female sexual expression and empowerment.
Atop every R&B artist’s agenda is to no doubt solidify themselves as a viable vocalist, a box that Tweet checks early into the album, in her duet with Bilal, who had already established his voice as a hallmark of the neo-soul movement. The two trade vocal acrobatics over the well-written tune that details the taboo subject of the walls of a platonic friendship tumbling down.
The album proved to be the musical equivalent of a bona fide page-turner with minimal, if any, filler content, showcasing the more exuberant side of Tweet and her songwriting team, with “Beautiful,” “Heaven,” and even a brief visit to her church roots in “Complain.”
The saga doesn’t stray far out of its comfort zone, being perfectly anchored around the theme of showing 50 shades of this Rochester, NY born hummingbird turned southern belle. The opening song “My Place” a loose interpolation of Teddy Pendergrass’ 1979 hit “Come and Go with Me” begins the flirtation of the new millennial woman in complete control of her sexuality.
Her confidence remains unfeigned in the boastful ballad “Always Will,” and the album’s second single “Call Me” reveals the songstress’ return to mischief, as she orchestrates her own late night creep off. The satisfying album officially concludes like a ghetto opera, with “Drunk,” another understated moment of this musical erotica.
Like Mary J. Blige’s My Life album almost a decade earlier, Southern Hummingbird is a nearly perfectly executed, contemporary soul hymnal, which proves it’s always worth the wait when a lady sings the blues.