Friends and family packed d.c. space Saturday night for homegirl Toshi Reagon's annual birthday concert. This year's celebration enjoyed an additional boost: Reagon, who now resides in New York City, was recently signed by Elektra Records.
The daughter of Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Reagon, Toshi grew up steeped in blues, gospel and other African American music styles. The blues are the heartbeat of her music, she explained, opening with two acoustic blues numbers that shared a distinctly female perspective and showed off her remarkable vocals, effortlessly ranging from gritty to velvety.
Though she apologized that she could afford only to bring down her rhythm section -- bassist Debbie Robinson and drummer Bernice Brooks -- the stripped-down arrangements were evidence that Reagon's compositions are indeed built on the blues. The passionate "River Ride On," the reggae-pulsed "Justice" and other numbers were characterized by insightful lyrics concerning affairs of the world and the heart.
It wasn't long before her affectionate audience was singing and dancing along to the funk-punk "The Day Waits for Nobody" and the scorching R&B workout on Bernice Reagon's "How Long." Throughout, Reagon was as brassy as a favorite child, praising her own praiseworthy material, taking on Congress and the music industry, and recommending books, the titles of which she couldn't quite remember. The message has always been integral to the music of her parents, and Reagon's message rang clear and true. Clearly, Elektra has gotten a very good thing.