Leela James, "My Soul"

79 Billboard Rating

Leela James grabbed attention with her arresting but uneven 2005 debut, "A Change Is Gonna Come." And her voice- a gritty, soulfully booming force of nature- provided that proof. On her 2009 covers album, "Let's Do It Again," her striking vocals poured new feeling into R&B/funk songs originally recorded by others. But it still left you itching for James to sink her teeth into something of her own. She does that on "My Soul," the debut for her fitting new home, legendary soul label Stax. From her growling, rock-edged stance on opener "I Ain't New To This," James reclaims the hoopla that greeted her initial arrival. Conjuring soul sisters Aretha Franklin, Betty Wright, Mavis Staples and Millie Jackson, James puts her unique emotional stamp on the churchy "The Fact Is," the smoky groove "Party All Night" and the emphatic "Tell Me You Love Me." Not every song is a home run, but this album shows James is deinitely back on the right track. --Gail Mitchell

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