It's notable that, over the course of Mosadi Music's debut The Window, the band acknowledges its own live reputation four times: "We appreciate y'all participatin' in our first public appearance. We appreciate it, fo' real," says Mosadi frontwoman shirlette ammons by way of an introduction to the record. A crowd cheers for the recognition. Some 47 minutes later, she's at it again, wishing a real-time audience goodnight. She thanks them. They cheer. Appreciative antiphony.
Mosadi's live acumen (local jazz and rock standouts Chris Boerner, Nic Slaton, Matt McCaughan and The Applejuice Kid are the band's backline) is appropriate: Built on the sharp-wired, velvet-draped poetry of ammons, Mosadi is a band for its people, building itself upon the same revolution of words and actions that shaped its soul and hip-hop precedents. Like the confrontational yet nurturing tomes of Me'shell Ndegeocello and the aural documentaries of KRS-One, Mosadi spins traditions and reverence into an urgent and singular personality. It's eclectic and well aimed, ammons celebrating existence and its room for improvement over Boerner's guitar slithers and Slaton's resounding bass.
After all, ammons reports on a struggle for consciousness, awareness and—ultimately—transcendence not just as a black woman, but as a person: As imbued as it is in the metaphors of hip-hop culture, "He Was an MC" seems more a call for personal responsibility on an ecumenical level than anything else. "Appreciate" is an eloquent, circumstance-excepting call to recognize good fortune: "I appreciate mystery, faith, extended families and close encounters ... I appreciate being full-grown playing half-notes while half-naked." Ammons wants a world party, and everyone's invited.
But the disc's live suggestion is a tremendous burden, and chief among The Window's minor failures is its overly rehearsed tendencies. Over 14 tracks, moments of pure energy—from ammons and Charlotte rapper Supastition trading verses on "Appreciate" to ammons polysyllabic gymnastics over McCaughan's splice-and-stir drum samples on "Beautiful Tragedy"—come overwhelmed by lulls. That's representative of everything here: At her best, ammons serves eloquence with enthusiasm; at her worst, she and the band tiredly supply didactics ("John Wayne") that sound as processed and over-prepared as yesterday's news today. —Grayson Currin
Mosadi Music plays The Pour House Wednesday, Jan. 10. See www.mosadimusic.com for more info.
The Chapel Hill duo of John Gillespie and Elaine Tola—together, Nikki Meets the Hibachi—recorded Back Around 15 years after making their most well-known album, The Bluest Sky. They're not trying to keep it a secret that, in that interim, they've shifted very little musically. A remastered take on The Bluest Sky even follows Back Around as an appendix, and they've managed to stick with the same producer, Durham's John Plymale, for over a decade.
But there's something to be said for comfort here. On Back Around, Tola and Gillespie lean in closer to the songs than ever before, and—when the song is right, as with the title track or "Gettysburg"—the results can be compelling. Hibachi nestles big, open chords from acoustic guitars and a dashing acoustic lead into unorthodox, world-borne meters, and Tola and Gillespie drive their subjects to glory. Indeed, as vocalists, they're as well paired as they were 15 years ago, if not more so: There's an even warmer timbre to their complex harmonies, Gillespie floating over and below Tola's closing refrain on "Come Back Around." Percussionist Arturo Velasquez, who wasn't on The Bluest Sky, works perfectly within his surrounding, accenting instead of overtaking, holding the easel as the voices paint the picture.
Of course, such safety in aged comfort means that Back Around often sounds dated, like acoustic adult contemporary well past its popular prime. But Tola and Gillespie confess that: Over Back Around's 11 tracks, they make at least a half-dozen references to their age and how time isn't waiting for the perfect hook. Who knew that earnest, self-effacing songs about love played over two guitars could still sound fresh? Probably those who never stopped making it. —Grayson Currin
Nikki Meets the Hibachi plays the early show (7:30 p.m.) at The Cave Saturday, Jan. 20. For more, see www.nikkimeetsthehibachi.com.