You can tell when a woman has finally come into her own. It's in the swivel of her hips, the growl in her voice and the joy that brightens her face when she smiles. A woman filled with confidence is a force to be reckoned with. For singer songwriter Ledisi, that exuberance rings through on every track of her new album The Truth.
"I changed my life!" Ledisi says with a laugh. "With every album I grow, and with The Truth I am really starting to accept myself fully. I mean, I've always felt great about myself, but this time I've gone to a new level."
The result is an album filled not only with Ledisi's trademark soaring ballads but also something unexpected: a generous collection of up-tempo, beat-driven celebrations of love and lust. Ledisi describes the effort as "vibrant, sensual and fun. Of all of my recordings, this is definitely my favorite album ever."
And that's saying a lot. Over the past 13 years, New Orleans native Ledisi Anibade Young has recorded six albums, gained eight Grammy nominations including a nod for "Best New Artist" in 2008, performed six times at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama, and earned a place in the pantheon of the best soul singers of her generation. With The Truth, Ledisi, known for her rich and evocative ballads says it's time for something new. "What you're getting is a fiery version of Ledisi."
What sparked her flame? Ledisi won't name names, but she will say this: "I let go of toxic relationships and embarked on new healthy relationships. One in particular has me glowing!"
Her first single, I Blame You, is a joyful reflection on that new-found love. "This other person made me feel beautiful," she says. "And that made me look at myself and see myself in a different light." Her friend and collaborator, Claude Kelly (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera) came up with title.
"I came into the studio and Claude asked me how I was feeling and I said, 'I feel excited about myself,'" she recalls. "I told him someone was making me smile and he thought of the idea of blaming the other person for building me up. But of course, that only works if you are open to it."
The transformative power of letting go of the old and embracing the new is celebrated in the album's title track, The Truth, produced by D.J. Camper, (Chrisette Michelle, John Legend, Keyshia Cole).
"I wrote the song in a hotel room," says Ledisi, singing one of her favorite lines. "Like a hurricane without warning I woke up Sunday morning, had to face the truth."
"That song was the beginning of me letting go," she continues. "I realized, it's okay for you to leave something that's not working. Of course, it's scary to realize the truth and then go ahead and make a move. But that's what you have to do. Basically it comes down to, are you going to stay here and be miserable or are you going to leap and go for what you want?"
Going for what you want is a theme Ledisi continues to explore in, That Good Good, which she co-wrote with Angelica Lea, Jon Jon Trax and Claude Kelly, with whom she collaborated on the 2011 hit Pieces of Me. The song, a playful, up-tempo, nod to female sexual assertiveness is a syncopated pro-woman anthem to put all others to shame. "I heard the song and I went bananas," says Ledisi. "I love songs that tell women it's okay to ask their partners for what they want. You know, like 'Can you do this? If you can't then get out of the way!' It took me a while to be that forward. So when I heard it in a song, I was like 'Oh, this is me now! I love it!'"
"That Good Good doesn't have to be sexual," she continues. "It can be about asking for the best kind of loving and promising you are going to give it back."
If The Good Good is about asking for what you want, Lose Control is the declaration of a woman who got just what she needed: some late-night down and dirty. It's music to listen to when words alone can't express your desire. "Laced red high heel shoes, left behind some clues," Ledisi sings. "Follow the roses, let me reward you for loving me like you're supposed to."
Ledisi says while creating Lose Control, which she co-wrote with long-time producer Rex Rideout (Luther Vandross, Angie Stone, Will Downing), she drew on the experiences of people around her. "I asked Rex, how does it feel to feel to be married?" she recalls. "And I asked another producer, how does it feel to be single? And I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice if people started getting excited about getting intimate? We don't have enough songs like that, songs that describe romance. Wouldn't it be good to describe what we are going to do in a classy intimate and aggressive way? Why can't women lead?"
Ledisi explains that her new music is a reflection of her journey of self-discovery. "There was a time when I felt like I had to please everybody," she says. "Now I'm like 'I don't care anymore,' I just want to be fully out there and be the person I really am, which is someone who loves being open and fun."
But all this self love didn't enter Ledisi's life without her shedding some baggage. In 88 Boxes, Ledisi tells an intimate tale of a failed relationship. "If you would have said 'I loved you,' I would have turned around and stayed. But you said nothing. Did you really love me?" Ledisi sings on the hauntingly beautiful track that is as mournful as it is memorable.
"88 Boxes is about me letting go," she explains. "I was moving out and had to count how many boxes I had for the moving truck. For women, it's hard for us to leave things and people that we love. We stay in situations almost like martyrs to ourselves. At the same time I was leaving, I am recognizing that the other person didn't want me to leave but didn't know how to say the words, 'Don't go.' In 88 Boxes, I am being somewhat sympathetic to that...but I am also focusing on the reality of what is...the end of a love affair."
The track, which Ledisi had originally penned as a poem, was recorded in a single take. "I laid it down in the dark," she remembers. "Everyone had been telling me how I should record the song, but my vocal producer, Roland Jack, who is like a brother to me, said, "Led I want you to do what you wrote. Forget all these people. Get your butt in that booth and sing the truth. When I came out the room everybody had their mouths open like, "Oh my God!" It was one of the hardest songs to record and it's honest."
Ledisi's courage to be so vulnerable isn't the only positive byproduct of her transformation. "Over the past few years, I've really had to ask myself, 'Who are you and what do you want to be,'" she reflects. "I did some mediation and I started working out hard. Not like how I used to where I would do a couple of crunches and then drink a soda! Now I'm really challenging myself. And I love this girl! She's free and uninhibited and having fun with life. I've learned that when you really love who you are, it radiates! It all starts from the within. It all starts from accepting The Truth."
Ledisi's thrill of self-discovery is now available for all of us to enjoy, on The Truth.