An exquisite return from the R&B goddess...

For a moment there it looked as though we’d lost Jazmine Sullivan. The R&B icon has always had a love-hate relationship with the broader industry, rejecting the impositions placed upon her as a Black American woman in an often hostile environment.

Ending a five year hiatus in 2020, Jazmine’s return sparked bedlam from fans, with her name swiftly trending across North America. New album ‘Heaux Tales’ is her first since 2015’s ‘Reality Show’ and it arrives with palpable expectation, a thirst fuelled both by the peerless highs of her own catalogue and that mysterious disappearance from the public eye.

A divinely contoured, wonderfully precise experience, ‘Heaux Tales’ is an exquisite listen. Taken as individual elements, the songwriting her ranks among her finest to date, but there’s an over-arching sense of purpose which allows ‘Heaux Tales’ to search for its place as one of the finest modern R&B albums to emerge in the past decade.

Utilising spoken word segments to align each chapter within the album’s framework, Jazmine aims to explore “today’s women standing in their power...” Linking together sexual openness with a frank take on materialism, ‘Heaux Tales’ bristles with independence, from the opening words of ‘Bodies’ through to those closing notes.

The peaks have an Alpine quality. ‘Pick Up Your Feelings’ is sensational, while Ari Lennox features on the wonderfully infectious ‘On It’. A record that stakes a claim to its own pasture, ‘Heaux Tales’ dares to be different, with Jazmine’s perfectionist streak balanced against occasionally raw, intimate use of sonics.

As such, Anderson .Paak’s raucous appearance on ‘Pricetags’ is offset by moments of genuine tenderness, such as closing track – and previous single - ‘Girl Like Me’, a soothing meditation on femininity that allows Jazmine’s vocal styles to pirouette against H.E.R.

The spoken word segments act as much more than mere skits, with those prose elements illuminating key thematic aspects of her work. A record whose internal structure feels both delicate and immediately engaging, ‘Heaux Tales’ thrives through its proclamation of the unexpected, with Jazmine leading her assembled cast on to fresh ground.

Ending such a lengthy wait for new material was never going to be easy, but Jazmine Sullivan makes her Everest-like task look deceptively simple. A woman speaking her truth in poetic, soulful fashion, ‘Heaux Tales’ could be her defining chapter.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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