BY FRED MILLS
In an earlier incarnation, songstress Laura Reed was a diminutive-and-dreadlocked dynamo fronting the much-loved Deep Pocket, a funk & soul, reggae-informed jam band that wowed audience throughout the Carolinas region and beyond. Yours truly saw ‘em perform a number of times in Asheville during the ‘00s and can testify to Reed’s huge-lunged, foot-poundin’, dreadlocks-shakin’ prowess on stage. After disbanding the group she took some time off, eventually landing a publishing deal and then accepting an invitation to come to Nashville to work with producer Shannon Sanders (Indie.Arie, Robert Randolph, John Legend).
That soulful connection becomes an action verb on her new album. Awash in luscious textures and ablaze with emotional passion, The Awakening showcases Reed’s astonishing pipes throughout a melange of stylistic twists and turns, effectively reinventing the artist from the ground up. (You can take that notion literally too: immediately prior to taking the album sleeve photo, Reed cut off her dreads; she told me recently about how, in the shower after the shearing, she was able to massage her scalp for the first time in years.) From the finger-snapping, sassysexycool opening track “Naturally” and the bouncy, Motown-esque “Wake Up” to the dancing strings, fresh beats and jabbing horns of “Voodoo” (which finds the vocalist very nearly dipping into scat-singing territory) and the bluesy/jazzy neo-soul of “Wolves,” Reed oozes charisma and confidence, her voice nothing less than an instrument of seduction. Fans of Amy Winehouse and Adele will no doubt embrace her alongside hip-hop aficionados and collectors of ‘60s girl-group and Motown.
The record certainly won’t be a shock to the system for longtime fans of Reed and Deep Pocket, however, for while a sleek, radio-friendly affair (as befits producer Sanders’ modus), it’s rife with grooves to die for. And as evidenced by a recent performance in which Reed stomped and strutted her way through a set of funk, soul and straight-up blues (the latter via a Muddy Waters cover that found her blowing a mean harp), she hasn’t sacrificed a whit of her hi-nrg stage presence, either. She strikes the perfect balance between studio polish and raw power.
DOWNLOAD: “Wolves,” “Wake Up,” “Voodoo”