Now It's On contributor MB reviews Liv Warfield's new album.
This album begins with a simple spoken intro, “you are now entering the world of Liv Warfield.” And what a world it is! The introduction gives way to “Coat Of Arms,” a beautiful horn segue heralding the arrival of music’s next big thing! Liv is not new to the music scene, however she started her career singing in clubs in and around Portland before releasing her debut album Embrace Me in 2006. In 2009 she was asked to join Prince’s touring band The New Power Generation where she quickly became a featured performer both live and on record. As she tells it, in addition to executive producing The Unexpected, Prince was a true source of inspiration and motivation.
Things kick into full gear with a rocking vocal explosion that also happens to be the title track. “The Unexpected,” written by Prince, is a slinky, flirty, guitar driven masterpiece. Guitar and voice front and center with a hook that says it all. “You can call it the Unexpected or you can call it...WOW!” This track is your first clue that it is time to surrender your expectations and enjoy the world of Liv Warfield. Without giving the listener a moments rest, “Why Do You Lie?” booms from the speakers and grabs you by both ears. Featuring The NPG Hornz, this song made its network television debut on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon and shines just as bright here.
Aside from her amazing voice, another thing that stands out on The Unexpected is the live sound. Anyone who has seen Prince and the New Power Generation in concert will be very familiar with the catch phrase, “real music by real musicians.” Using those words like a blueprint and mission statement, this album sets itself apart from the heaps of plastic, overproduced cookie cutter songs that pass for music these days. If the music wasn’t enough to grab your attention, how about the line, “Paul McCartney got it wrong." That’s right, she calls out a Beatle! Making reference to the McCartney song by the same name, “Blackbird,” written by guitarist extraordinaire Ryan Waters, screams with defiance. She takes the somewhat patronizing tone of Paul’s track and turns it upside down letting us know that “these broken wings can learn to fly.” The song ends abruptly at just over two minutes. Leave them wanting more, the first rule of show business.
Slowing things down, “Stay – (Soul Lifted)” is like a slice of R&B heaven. Delicious horn lines and thick organ give way to silky smooth vocals that bring the listener back to the golden age of music. Ashley Seamster and Saeeda Wright provide background vocals that blend perfectly with Liv and the mood of the track. Keith Anderson of NPG Hornz delivers a beautiful saxophone solo that puts this one over the top. If there isn’t room on radio for a song like this then maybe we should just turn the radio off. “Stay – (Soul Lifted)” is followed by “Catch Me If You Can,” a frantic number that sounds like a cross between Janelle Monae and Estelle. NPG Hornz and an aggressive guitar line serve as the glue to a song that is so live it sounds like the band is in the room with you. Cleverly crafted and infectious, it is no wonder this song was used to preview the album a few months back.
Co-producer Ryan Waters came up with the idea to play certain sections of “Don’t Say Much” soft and quiet so when the chorus kicks in, it kicks twice as hard. That is just one of many things that work on this amazing track. Bending genres from pop to rock to R&B, “Don’t Say Much” holds your attention from start to finish with the simple idea that one should not wait for love but instead just go for it. Without a doubt this is one of the strongest songs on the album and it deserves to be released as a single. “Lena Blue” is based on Liv’s real life Aunt Lena, but the song is here to remind us, “Everybody’s got a Lena Blue. One Soul you can’t deny." This funky, gritty, jam-based number uses hand-claps and a slinky bass line to make it impossible to sit still. Sounding like something from a 70’s soul record or even a movie musical, “Freedom” is an anthemic song about empowerment. This song transcends time by simultaneously sounding like Diana Ross and Jill Scott. The vocal acrobatics that end the track are simply ethereal.
Featuring horn arrangement by Philip Lassiter of NPG, "Come Back" is a slow burning tale of love gone wrong. In this emotional ballad, Liv ponders all the things that went wrong and what she can do to fix it. The background vocals serve as an inner monologue revealing that, in truth, it is her man that is to blame. “Don’t give up on me baby, I love you,” she sings, giving way to a guitar solo so beautiful it sounds like it is gently weeping. If the time Liv Warfield spent with Prince was a full blown course in Musicology, then “Your Show” is her thesis statement. While many tracks may contain a purple influence here and there, this absolutely screams his name. Produced and co-written by Prince and performed by the New Power Generation, “Your Show” is exactly what it sounds like at one of his legendary 4 AM intimate aftershows. Dark, sexy, moody and all around groovy, hinging on the interplay between baritone sax and flute, creating a hook within a hook. On top of all that, add Liv’s sultry vocals and lyrics inspired by blacksploitation films and you have an instant classic.Clocking in at just over seven minutes, this song alone is worth the price of admission.
As with "Coat Of Arms," we are again treated to a horn interlude arranged by multi-talented trombonist and NPG member Roy Agee. This second interlude serves as the perfect bookend to Liv Warfield’s journey of The Unexpected, but as someone once famously said, “It Ain’t Over.” Included as a bonus track, “Fly” is a jazzy number used to showcase Liv’s vocal and songwriting skills. Just so you know, she can “fly without you,” and with this song and record she shows us that, just like a Phoenix, she will fly, she will rise and she will succeed. Make no mistake, The Unexpected is not a protégé record. Prince‘s role on this album is as a friend, brother and mentor. Liv took the challenge and came up with a sound that is very much her own, part rock & roll, part R&B, and all the way real! When you follow your heart instead of following trends, the result is absolute magic. You can call it the Unexpected or you can call it………………WOW!
The Unexpected was released as a digital download February 18, 2014 via 1860 Property, LLC.