Based in Toronto and sporting an impressive set of vocal chops, Tanika Charles has long been a star feature of the soul scene in her hometown. But the release of her debut album Soul Run sees her attempting to extend her reach to the wider, global world of music lovers.
This effort to reach the soul loving public should reap the whirlwind for her, as her album is a shining example of a modern refit of the classic soul of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Produced by an assortment of soundsmiths including Slakah the Beatchild, Daniel Lee, Emdee and 2nd Son, Christopher Sandes, and Big Tweeze, it manages to lend a contemporary edge to those archetypal soul sounds, allied to some empowered feminine lyrics to produce an album capable of crossing over to the mainstream.
Album opener and title track “Soul Run” is a case in point. Like a lone Thelma or Louise, she sings of heartbreak, escape and rebirth, with a feistiness that echoes great female artists of the past, to the accompaniment of handclaps, a driving backbeat and a scratchy funk lick.
“Two Steps” carries the lyrical thread of empowerment further, berating an over eager suitor with a swift metaphorical kick to the balls: “Quit calling me on the phone / I done told you that I’m not at home / A girl just needs to be alone / Don’t need no man to walk me home.” Its lilting verse and driving, foot-to-the-floor chorus dwell in the same realm as Leon Bridges’ heralded 2015 debut album Coming Home. Rooted in ‘60s soul, it’s an affectionate emulation of a classic sound, updated sympathetically and it deserves a similar chance to be heard as widely as Bridges’ songs.
The rumbling, bumper-car bass of “Sweet Memories” offers further evidence of an unabashed female voice with its “I just want you in my bed” line and also manages to score extra points for the use of “tinctures” in the lyric. Yet, as ever, we are all merely standing on the “shoulders of giants” and Charles is no different. The obvious soul touchstones of yore are here, but it is a more contemporary artist who she most closely resembles lyrically. “More Than a Man” is the most obvious example of this connection, as its gentle jazzy, R&B vibe waltzes into view to the accompaniment of a deliciously foul-mouthed, coruscating lyric. “You just don’t know when to fuck off” is as pure a reflection of Amy Winehouse as you’ll hear, yet it still retains a sense of Charles’ own personality to make it a winning hand.
And so the album treads its way through the lexicon of ‘60s soul moves. “Money” is a perky, sparky bit of sass. “Love Fool” stomps powerfully. “Heavy” shares DNA with James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” “Endless Chain” is a veritable ray of soulshine on a murky day and the Stevie Wonder inspired lyrics (As) of “Waiting” even survive a brush with Trumpian alt-facts (“I’ll stay with you ‘til a lie is the truth”).
Album closer “Darkness and the Dawn” hints at a future direction for Charles, revealing a desire to move away from the 3-minute song template of the ‘60s to a more expansive ‘70s soul blueprint. Containing light and shade that offers a glimpse into what may yet be, it’s a suitably winning end to an album bursting with promise and relatable, down to earth lyrics of love, life and liberation.
Notable Tracks: “Darkness and the Dawn” | “More Than a Man” | “Soul Run”