Me’Shell Ndeg?ocello titled her latest album Bitter (Maverick), but it is a misnomer.
The album oozes with emotion and intensity, but the feeling she puts into it is anything but bitter. Each carefully crafted song utilizes every ounce of Ndeg?ocello’s musical ability and teems with sensuality.
Despite the intricacy of her name, Ndeg?ocello keeps things simple throughout the album. She understands the notion of simplicity and the power of understatement, using it to its fullest. “Fool of Me,” with light percussion and delicate piano chords, is full of emotion. As the first song with lyrics on the album, it sets the precedent.
The title track immediately grips you. When the soulful words roll off of Ndeg?ocello’s tongue, you feel her pain in the pit of your stomach. Much of the song is a mournful instrumental, but the impact of the two stanzas of lyrics is unavoidable.
In the first half of the song, she sings “You push me away bitterly/My apologies fall on your deaf ears/you curse my name bitterly/And now your eyes they look at me bitterly.” The song, composed of just two stanzas of lyrics, easily could be a poem.
In “Beautiful,” Ndeg?ocello’s sensual voice rivets the listener. The soft sounds of the piano fade in and out of the background as Ndeg?ocello almost whispers the only lyrics of the song: “Such pretty hair/May I kiss you/May I kiss you there/So beautiful you are/So beautiful.” With these few words, Ndeg?ocello hits an intense emotional level few artists reach.
Two of the 12 tracks, interestingly titled “Adam” and “Eve,” are purely instrumental and thrive on simplicity. Although the two songs are placed on opposite ends of the album, they clearly work as a pair. The strings that dominate “Adam” sound sorrowful and remorseful, while the sounds in “Eve” resonate with strength.
With each song Ndeg?ocello allows her penetrating voice to dig into layers of strings and jazz sounds to create soothing music. Yet, despite the slow rhythms, the album never becomes tedious or repetitive. Instead, the intensity of the album draws you deeper into it.
Although Ndeg?ocello probably is best known for her appearance on John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Wild Nights,” the slow jazz sounds highlighted on Bitter?exemplify her talents better than any pop song could. She sounds like a soulful Tracy Chapman, but Ndeg?ocello’s sound and talent make comparisons to other musicians seem silly. There is no true comparison for near perfection.