Sade is back again after a long hiatus, with a new album, Soldier of Love. While her voice is still strong and silky smooth, the music has shifted with the times. There's less of a Latin jazz groove here and more emphasis on loops and beats. Even though Sade doesn't sound anything like Lauryn Hill, there's a Fugees sensibility in the arrangements and rhythms.
The first track, The Moon and the Sky, shows this perfectly. An acoustic guitar, a snaky lead line, and tiny bits of fill start out the song, then a beat kicks in and the music slips into an easy loop. The Fugees have used the same song flow before and the lead line is reminiscent of The Score. It's a cool and laid back groove.
While Soldier of Love was the first single, Babyfather is the second and it's the strongest track here. It's a simple arrangement, but Sade's expressive voice completely sells this story of budding love. The reggae-beat drums and bass provide the drive, with the acoustic guitar laying out some simple strums instead of a chank. There's something in the easy flow, the beat, and pretty backing vocal parts that locks this tune in my ear. The only odd bit is a bit of repeated lyric that sounded like: Your daddy knows, you're a fling, which contrasts with the whole theme of true love discovery. It turns out that the word "fling" was actually "flame". Still, that didn't really distract from enjoying this sweet R&B groove.
In sharp contrast, Bring Me Home is darker and haunting. It sounds a bit like Eric McFadden (Sorrow) or old Tom Waits, with a tight guitar arpeggio, a loose jazzy vocal, and an insistent beat. The mood is completely different, but it's just as satisfying to hear again and again. The backing vocals have the perfect light touch here, too.
All of this makes Soldier of Love worth the almost 10 year wait. Sade's voice and the band's playing fuse together well. Candlelight and hand warmed brandy will complete the mood.