Pop: Brand new heavyweight

N'dea Davenport Dingwalls, London

In 1992, N'dea Davenport moved from Atlanta, Georgia to London, England, to become lead singer for The Brand New Heavies. She went on to record four albums in as many years, as well as other, high-profile collaborations, which all helped establish worldwide recognition for herself and the band along the way.

Sometime after the fourth album she decided to "...take a break... to get away from the music industry and do simple things like ride bikes and be with friends...". There was also a long-dreamt about solo project to be worked on. In 1996 N'dea Davenport went home to find her own voice.

Last week at Dingwalls, it was as if she had never been away. Bouncing on stage with characteristic effervescence, it seemed more likely that she was meeting up with old friends (which in a way, she was). She smiled the same coy smile, looked through the same heavy-lidded eyes, sang with the same unique voice.

Without any hesitation or introductions, the band broke into the first release from the album, a hip-hop driven track called "Bring It On" which gives more than a passing nod at the current US rhythm and blues scene. Briefly I had the horrific thought that N'dea may have come back as one of the "born again" brigade, suffering a few creative nips'n'tucks to sculpt a more commercial sound.

This thought was in fact brought on by the discovery that the only other producer besides herself on the album was Dallas Austin - the man responsible for "contemporising" Aretha Franklins' recent long player. Was N'dea moving towards the Mary J Blige generation? Would her new sobriquet be simply, 'N'deaD'?

Fortunately, such chimeras were soon laid to rest. The only re-invention to occur was obviously a quite radical break in style. "Bring It On" was only one example of this singers' decision to experiment. As we moved through the set, cutely cemented every two or three tracks by an old Heavies' number, it seemed that Ms Davenport had experienced something akin to a musical catharsis. "I've been working on some... different things. Experimenting with some other genres" she announced somewhat ambiguously, before breaking into a superb funked-up rendition of "Old Man", the Neil Young classic. The audience took two paces back in surprise... quickly followed by three acceptant ones forward.

Lyrically, most of the songs performed roam around that evergreen subject matter, "love", although from an interesting range of perspectives; unrequited and ingratiating on "Whatever You Want"; confused yet hopeful on the blues- infused "Save Your Love For Me"; and assertive and wary on the frankly titled "Bullshittin'". The musical zig-zagged through these songs, switching between rock, soul, blues, funk and hip-hop.

Although most of the crowd hadn't heard any of the material, N'dea's misty and heartfelt world soon won them over. Even the ubiquitous chin- strokers were caught rocking on their heels. There is a sincerity and a reassuring warmth to this young lady that puts people at ease. Whether she's wildly waving her trademark tambourine or sensuously hugging the mic, she creates an enigmatic magnetism. N'dea Davenport, it seems, has certainly found her own voice - and it's saying something you may want to hear.

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