Spirited r&b singer/songwriter Solange stayed out of the album game for quite some time prior to the recording sessions for her new album, A Seat at the Table (Sept 30, Saint/Columbia). Her last album, the slightly divergent Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, arrived in 2008 followed by her True EP in 2012. An artist with an identity and now a growing catalogue all her own, Solange distinguishes herself further from the growing pack of soul, pbr&b and hip-hop inspired singers with what is her third album and even creates some distance in front of them in the cordial contest of challengers for top spot. Solange has nothing to prove at this point and her cool, calm, collected demeanor on the album really shows it to be true. Above all, she has peace to share and relatable emotions to get across with her soothing music-balm for these aching times.
In her soft modest song-voice, Solange is “weary of the ways of the world” and ponderous of a woman’s place in it in “Weary” but recognizes the men around her and hers when she sings, “he bleeds just like you do.” In “Cranes in the Sky,” she admits that all the depthless artifices and unfulfilling pastimes, all the work, play and cloths that she once relished in have not brought her true happiness or serenity. Did I mention that her interludes are lent to a few inspirational ladies and gentlemen who have had a profound impact on her development? Folks like her dad, mom and Percy Miller of No Limit Records share their thoughts on the segregation and racism of the past, pride in being black, ambition, drive, achievement and how to keep morale up. Independent and free-thinking in firm yet not the most exuberant or energized of ways, Solange rather gets across steadily and in a few particular concept songs that 1 – she’s not going to automatically live by someone else’s expectations, 2 – her interests and passions should be respected, and 3 – she truly dislikes fake niceness and halfheartedly-given kind regards.
With A Seat at the Table being a major mainstream project in the public eye and arena, judged by millions of people, it is absolutely essential that Solange’s messages get interpreted correctly. A couple at least require some deeper examination, and there’s no reason not to give her or her guests the benefit of the doubt. Firstly, in “F.U.B.U.,” her somewhat vague idea of exclusive privileges and rights for a group she implies to be blacks could cause listeners to start down a questionable path mentally. What is it that should be in one people’s hands and not in another’s and why? The answer is not discussed at great length in the song; however, it should be supposed that what she’s referring to are the memories and experiences shared by the poor and marginalized under socioeconomic oppression that cannot be felt by the largely white well-off classes, though all (white, black, Asian, Latino, Mid Eastern, Native American, etc., etc.) should be aware of such structures in society, so we can take them down and build new ones.
Lastly, the “Closing: The Chosen Ones” coda, delivered by Master P, again could be a little misleading so P’s conferment of specialness to blacks (again implied) should be looked into with the most innocent of curiosity. What he means is that those downcast folks he’s uplifting have a toughness and strength to them from all their trials that when harnessed can help them rise above their conditions and surpass others. That is likely what he means by “chosen.” No harm no foul. With her warm, personal and kind words, Solange makes this chill new r&b set mean a lot to so many, and her interlude-guests show tremendous compassion for the victims of the dangerous capitalist free market economy. Other participants among them include Sampha, The-Dream, Kelly Rowland, Nia Andrews and Kelela. A Seat at the Table is just a cool musical elixir for the soul, great for those taken under or aback by this maddening world.