by Jenn Kelly, Contributing Writer
Adeline calls me from a cafe in Paris. She says she just enjoyed lunch with artist friends from black immigrant families, during which they brainstormed on how to inspire young people to progress their careers. She tells me she feels “very lucky to have the best of both worlds still part of her culture.”
If you haven’t heard of Adeline, you need to remedy that immediately. The French-Caribbean lead singer of the nu-disco band, Escort, has just released her self-titled debut solo album, and it is everything
The avant-garde album pumps out glassy mixtures of synths, snares, and irresistibly funky bass lines. Adeline’s low-key electrifying bass playing on the record is reminiscent of the sounds of Prince, Chaka Khan, and Curtis Mayfield while still remaining contemporary. All of these elements are assisted by Adeline‘s soulful and powerful superstar vocals with a broad range no mere mortal can touch. The album is fun, energizing and fresh
Adeline grew up in Paris in a creative family of Martinican origin. She’s a classically-trained vocalist who picked up the bass by happy accident early in her music career. She laughs, as she recounts a tale of an early gig in her music career where the bass player didn’t show up, and with the encouragement of her bandmates, she picked up the bass, which she hasn’t put down since.
After discovering the bass she “kind of locked [herself ] in [her] apartment for a year and focused on learning how to play.” I ask her how she got her start in songwriting.
“My brother taught me how to play the guitar,” She began. “As soon as I knew two chords I started writing songs.” She moved to New York as a young adult and still considers the eclectic city her home base.
The conversation turns to her connection to Martinique: “Our music, which is called Zouk, really influenced my bass without me even realizing it.” She expresses gratitude that so many people are asking her about her origins and is “happy to wave the flag of Martinique.”
Not only is this her debut album as a solo performer, but Adeline also co-produced the album with Morgan Wiley (Hercules & Love Affair, Midnight Magic). I asked her about her writing process and how the different genres have influenced her work.
“It was important to make a body of work that would leave a trace and take people on a journey as if you were watching a movie. I love singing soul music. I love jazz and hip hop,” She explained. “I felt there were differences in the audiences and I wanted to show myself that these genres are really not that different. I wanted to make that connection.”
This album definitely differentiates Adeline as her own artist. The #MeToo movement didn’t influence her decision to release a solo album, but the courage of women raising their voices has resonated with her.
“Being an immigrant black woman who plays an instrument in 2017 sorta did give me a little more wings, wanting to be directly a part of the change,” she admits.
Taking charge of the writing for her solo project gives her the opportunity to put her voice to the front. In contrast to her efforts as part of Escort, the texts are more personal, and the tempo slows down to help her deliver her message clearly
In her own project, Adeline takes a sparser approach to arrangements. They tend to be more synth-based and feature less of traditional disco-ey string and horn lines and fills. One can hear a different approach in the writing, where the songwriter works with a producer and vocals are the main focus, whereas, in a band setting, the other musicians share the focus. That doesn’t mean that she sacrifices any of the dancy energy Escort is known for. “Hi Life” is clearly an NYC track, its disco vibe at times leaning towards house music, with a syncopated baseline that will make dancers loft.
Lyrically, many of the album’s tracks could at first blush be mislabeled as love songs, and in a way they are; but they just aren’t your typical love song. One of the standout singles, “Emeralds”, finds Adeline at her most soulful peak as she questions the juxtaposition of wealth and love to a contrast of glittering harpsichords, guitar and the live bass slapping out a funky groove. The lyrics speak of the joy of a love that cannot be bought
The hit “Swirl” is about addiction and the world that addicts live in. It is based off a quirky and repetitive drum loop and a smattering of synths. The instruments are almost muffled with an underwater quality, with only the vocals bringing in high frequencies. The track “Café Au Lait” is half-sung, half-whispered in French and has a potent, beguiling quality that its soft percussion and bass allow Adeline to tease out. “Café
Adeline will be playing the MilkBoy in Philadelphia on February 23rd. Make sure you grab a ticket to see this funky bass queen.