"Have You Heard"
Though now recording for Ani DiFranco's label and working with producer Craig Street, best known for his alliance with Cassandra Wilson, Toshi Reagon hasn't significantly altered her sound. She's still making music that resounds with spirituality, rhythm and the blues.
And still mixing it up. "Have You Heard," Reagon's sixth release, has her moving from rousing gospel-flavored refrains (the album's title track) and churning soul grooves ("Didn't I Tell You") to tender reflections ("You"), political laments ("Down to the Water") and a vintage rock cover ("Heartbreak Hotel"). The Elvis sighting occurs at the album's close, when Reagon finds herself quietly singing the blues "down at the end of lonely street."
It's impossible to listen to some of the vocal harmonies on the album without detecting Reagon's family ties to Sweet Honey in the Rock, the magnificent a cappella ensemble co-founded by her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon. That's particularly true on "Dream," with its haunting arrangement and evocative lyric ("Jordan river, Jordan river / Can you hear me call / Feel me cross, feel me cross the water"). Another soulful and insinuating highlight is "Building Blues," which is reminiscent of Street's Delta-inspired collaborations with Wilson.
Sometimes, though, Reagon simply revels in funk beats, her voice dancing atop Fred Cash's resonating bass lines. Cash and other members of Reagon's Big Lovely band are colorfully showcased, but ultimately it's the singer's heart that generates the strongest pulse.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Thursday at Jammin' Java.