The name of the new collaborative EP from Durham poet and MC Shirlette Ammons and Chapel Hill rock band Dynamite Brothers is And Lovers Like. You might not get that from a quick glance at its cover. The gold medallion shoves the record's title to the center, giving more prominence to the disc's impressive list of guest stars.
Really, it's hard to blame them: Old-time specialist and former Carolina Chocolate Drop Justin Robinson guests, as do silky-voiced R&B songstress Yahzarah and Kelly Crisp, the female half of Raleigh pop duo The Rosebuds. And that's just the start. Though the talent displayed during And Lovers Like is daunting, as the title suggests, the record's exploration of love is what sets it apart.
Ammons, who regularly fronts the funk-hip-hop outfit Mosadi Music, tackles her love life and sexuality with honesty and passion during these seven songs. She's gay, a subject she explores deeply here. She never shirks from female pronouns, and her come-ons are specific about what kind of love she's interested in. "I got no bed time," she intones on "Nevamind," allowing her voice to find a sensual middle ground between rapping and singing, "just an alarm clock and a mind to peel your lemon rind." It's an arrestingly direct innuendo, but Ammons' goal isn't to shock people. She hopes her examinations tackle both the physicality and emotionality of her love and life.
"It seems like queerness has become sort of a pop culture circus as opposed to the way some people are choosing to live their lives every day," Ammons says. "There's nothing wrong with 'I Kissed a Girl,' but who's writing about 'This is how I live' and 'This is an everyday thing'? This is just as valuable to the lexicon of love songs as is any song that's written by someone talking about opposite-sex love."
Ammons is 37, and this is the first time her music has directly addressed love. In Mosadi Music, her lyrics rip through social issues with sweeping strokes. With the Dynamite Brothers, she's found a place where she can explore her personal feelings openly. The band creates a lush blues-and-funk-filled backdrop for her words, a musical comfort zone that has everything to do with her partners.
The Dynamite Brothers served as one of her first introductions to rock music. She didn't grow up listening to it; shows at the first incarnation of Raleigh's Kings Barcade were among her earliest tastes. One show she attended featured the Brothers, and she was so struck by their potent blues-driven attack that, when Mosadi Music needed a fill-in guitar player in 2006, she reached out to Mitch Rothrock. He played with her band off and on for about two years, and the two remained close after his stint. When the Dynamite Brothers began work on their 2009 LP, Again, Rothrock shared some demos with Ammons. She eventually began writing words and new parts for those songs, forming the foundation for the songs that appear on And Lovers Like.
"I think it builds trust," Ammons says of her history with Rothrock and his band. "I mean, I think we genuinely like each other, which is a prerequisite to making music together."
They called in guests to fill out her vision, but it's the pairing's seamless musical relationship that really leaves a mark. "You've got to tell your own story," Robinson told Ammons, pinpointing what made this project so interesting to him. That's what the Dynamite Brothers allow Ammons to do and what makes And Lovers Like worthy of the gold medal on its cover.