Opening for Joan Osborne last year at New York's Irving Plaza, Atlantic Records artist Lina possessed a timeless combination of laid-back Southern warmth, introspection, spirituality, and a penchant f
Opening for Joan Osborne last year at New York's Irving Plaza, Atlantic Records artist Lina possessed a timeless combination of laid-back Southern warmth, introspection, spirituality, and a penchant for things jazzy and classy.
Thus, her Aug. 7 debut album, "Stranger on Earth," meshes hip-hop, big band, and soul in an infectious and often humorous manner.
Initially scheduled for release in January, the U.S. debut of Lina's album was delayed because of her success on the European tour circuit. Lina first supported British soul crooner Craig David and then co-headlined with rapper Guru as part of his Jazzmatazz alter ego.
"Coming from the Osborne tour, which was rock, and then going to a pop tour with Craig David was very different," Lina says. "I was a little intimidated, thinking his audience wouldn't want to see me because they're mostly female. But when I go onstage, I talk about what I'm going through in my life. So I opened every show with 'I kicked my boyfriend to the curb.' All the girls screamed."
By her own admission, Lina led something of a rootless existence, living in Dallas, Houston, and Austin, Texas -- or "here and there" as she puts it. Her singer mother and guitarist father had a local band for a while but separated before Lina was born.
Lina's childhood was far from idyllic. The stress of being a young, single parent took its toll on Lina's mother, who once attempted suicide. "It got too tough on her," Lina says. "Now I'm happy to say she's completely fine."
Raised on a diet of classic soul and jazz (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday), Lina admits, "To this day, I don't buy new music. I listen to the old stuff."
Shortly after high school, Lina decided to move to California to pursue her musical dreams. Staying with a cousin in Los Angeles, Lina made her first foray into the music business by writing songs for RCA artists Tyrese and Keisha. A chance meeting at a car dealership resulted in Lina being introduced to producer T. Howse, an eventual writing partner who encouraged her jazzy writing style.
She was later introduced to her manager, Wakeane Caffey of Los Angeles-based Sogwa Entertainment. Armed with an 18-song demo tape, Caffey set about eliciting label interest. They eventually settled on Atlantic after a meeting with executive Craig Kallman.
"He knew exactly where I was coming from," Lina says, "and actually suggested I do 'Stranger on Earth'" -- a Dinah Washington cover.
"Sometimes I feel like a stranger on earth," she adds. "I've always felt a spiritual presence around me. I can see things in my head that I never witnessed, like when my grandmother died. I wasn't at the funeral, but I saw her in a baby-blue dress in her coffin. When I asked my aunt what color she was buried in, she told me baby blue. Things like that have happened throughout my life."
Something Lina didn't foresee was the release of Arista artist Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)," which stylistically resembles Lina's own musical blueprint. When the song was released, Lina fielded numerous calls from friends and industry acquaintances who thought the hit song was hers.
She admits the episode caused her and those connected with her project considerable grief. "I don't want to take anything away from [Blu], because she's a talented artist, and I respect that," Lina says. "Her producer who wrote the song [Dallas Austin] was someone I was about to sign with before I signed with Atlantic. He always used to say he loved my style because it was unique. But I'm thankful for my European audience, because they know who I am and that I'm original."
Consequently, Lina's first U.S. single, "It's Alright," is what she describes as "the most normal-sounding song on the album." That's opposed to the European hit, "Playa No More," which, like Cantrell's song, uses big-band jazz samples. "It's Alright" was serviced to radio in June; a supporting video is being directed by Darren Grant.
"Her music stands by itself," says Joi Brown, Atlantic marketing director. "It's different and refreshing, and she has the personality that totally backs it up."
Lina will embark on a radio promotion tour commencing Sept. 1. Prior to that, she will be making TV appearances on MTV's "Next" and "Total Request Live," BET's "106 and Park," and "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." The artist will also join forces with the Roots for live shows in L.A. and San Francisco in July and August and will open for Interscope artist Bilal in September.
PD Jamillah Muhammad of WKKV Milwaukee says, "Lina is a true original. She's going to be one of the biggest female artists of the year."