Lauren Henderson subtly electrifies on “Alma Oscura”

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Using the jazz skills she nurtured and developed through her environment and her education, vocalist, composer, arranger and burgeoning entrepreneur, Lauren Henderson, returns this summer with her sixth album, “Alma Oscura,” or “Dark Soul.”

The heavy themes on the album play up the idea of a dark soul who expresses such things. Henderson’s rich voice is reminiscent of a number of husky-voiced singers, even a few pop greats of the past 20 years.

But even with those connections to other singers, Henderson remains an original. Her voice hits deep notes with such a rich quality at times that audiences are forced to lean in to hear where the phrasing is going.

On “Alma Oscura” Henderson is joined by a full ensemble of players, and a guest vocalist who adds to the well-sung dramatics of “From the Inside Out.”

Two songs on the album that shouldn’t be missed are “Ven Muerte” and the aforementioned “From the Inside Out.”

“From the Inside Out” by Lauren Henderson

Here Henderson pairs with guest vocalist, Leo Sidran. The two take turns singing the chorus and verses about a lover who does not fully reveal him or herself. Sidran sings the verses in Spanish. The song has a darkly romantic feel. This is partially created by the lush and nimble soundscape crafted by strings and augmented by woodwinds.

The singers pair up for a final English verse, and then alternate singing the title phrase in both Spanish and English. The guitar sounds a bit more raw as the piano picks up volume and a full-on vamp ensues.

 

“Ven Muerte” by Lauren Henderson

“Ven Muerte” or “they see death,” is a smoldering tune sung in Spanish by Henderson. She is proving her mastery of gentle songs with a bit of bite in the turns of phrase and the change in the soundscape’s dynamics. The dark song sounds as if it is about people preparing for death. It is brief – – it comes like the flash of a fashionable black shawl, leaving the audience to ponder what has happened.

Henderson’s voice and style tackles deep themes on “Alma Oscura.” In addition to the two songs discussed here, another emotionally charged song that covers huge themes reflective of problems with racial injustice, intolerance and general unkindness is “Something Bigger.”

With hints of tango, flamenco and covered in smoky-voiced jazz, “Alma Oscura” is an album full of deep thoughts and serious music.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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