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Soul - Released May 29, 2005 | Warner Records

"Music," the first song and lead single from Leela James' first album, bemoans the death of music. She reminisces about Aretha, Gladys, Tina, and Chaka, and asks, "Can we just put the thongs away?" Her argument is flawed and tired. All four inspirations released new material during the early 2000s, and James is the latest in an extended line of artists, stretching from American Idol to any anonymous keyboard lounge on the East Coast, claiming to rescue real music. James should turn off BET and go to a record store: issue solved. The remainder of A Change Is Gonna Come -- named after the Sam Cooke song, covered here -- isn't nearly as nauseating, thankfully enough, even if it retains a nostalgic tint. James has the stature of a woman who should possess a squeaky voice, but she sings with demonstrative grit. More importantly, she doesn't see her inspirations merely as artists to mimic; she sees how they learned from the past and applied it to the present. The past is built upon (if only a little), rather than simply revisited. Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, Chucky Thompson, and James Poyser are in on the action, giving James the kind of apt support she could've only imagined prior to recording the album. There's plenty of thematic range, whether there are blue lights in the basement, tears on the pillow, sweat on the dancefloor, or sun showers on the porch. Hopefully listeners won't hear all those names during "Music" and get the idea to listen to Lady Soul or Ask Rufus instead. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released July 31, 2012 | Shanachie

After one album for Stax, Leela James returns to Shanachie, the label that facilitated the all-covers set Let's Do It Again. One could be forgiven for glancing at the back of Loving You More...In the Spirit of Etta James, recognizing that all but two songs were once recorded by Etta, and feeling let down that Leela, once more, is leaning on music from an era that predates her birth. After all, her previous album was her best yet and showed that she was coming into her own as a songwriter. However, Loving You More is both reverent and imaginative. It's not just the range of the source material, which roams from the earliest part of Etta's career (including 1961's "At Last" and "Sunday Kind of Love") to the later years (Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby," covered by Etta in 1998). It's also the boldness that comes with the number of drastic rearrangements, the most excellent of which is the transformation of the blues-gospel ballad "I'm Loving You More Every Day" into late-'70s/early-'80s-style soul-disco. The two originals -- "Soul Will Never Die" and "Old School Kind of Love" -- are sturdy enough to be mistaken for covers. Leela honors her hero and, yes, makes nine old songs her own. That's not easy to do. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Soul - Released July 8, 2014 | BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

Leela James departs from Shanachie a second time and follows Loving You More, her tribute to Etta James, with an impressive synthesis of classic and contemporary sounds. The blend of styles on her fifth album is made evident immediately, with lead song "Who's Gonna Love You More" opening with a buzzing synthesizer quickly offset by a typically gutsy and assertive vocal from James. "Do Me Right" and "So Good" mix respectively hard and rattling drums with nostalgic touches to pleasing effect. Plenty of the album aims to please traditionalists, such as the title track, her best bare piano ballad yet. On the silky "Give It" and the hushed "Stay with Me," she dips into a softer, gritless delivery that suits her surprisingly well. Since the release of her 2005 debut, a duet with Anthony Hamilton seemed like only a matter of time. It finally comes to pass here on "Say That," something of a Philadelphia International throwback in which the two singers sound at ease with one another, like they go back decades. While the percentage of excellent material isn't as high as it is on James' two previous albums, Fall for You is an engaging release with some pleasingly unaffected twists. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released March 31, 2017 | BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

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R&B - Released March 24, 2009 | Shanachie

For adult contemporary R&B fans, it was disheartening that a vocalist as talented as Leela James went almost four years before releasing a follow-up to her flawed but promising debut. Coming into her second album with the knowledge that it is part of the Shanachie label's extensive series of all-covers sets, predominantly the province of artists twice James' age who are on album number ten or 20 instead of two, gauging the level of expectations is tricky. On one hand, it is frustrating that James' second album, after all this time, contains no original songs; on the other, it should be a loose, no-fuss affair, less measured than A Change Is Gonna Come and more like James' well-regarded live show. The latter, thankfully, is very much true. James' selections are mostly inspired, containing some natural (if obvious) material -- like the album's bookends, Betty Wright's "Clean Up Woman" and the Staple Singers' "Let's Do It Again" -- and some others that are bound to raise some eyebrows, just from seeing the titles. Womack & Womack's gently swinging "Baby I'm Scared of You" is a highlight, despite the absence of a sparring partner, which lends it a tone that is more serious than the Womacks' typically playful original. Phyllis Hyman's "You Know How to Love Me," perhaps the boldest inclusion (written and recorded when Mtume/Lucas and Hyman were at the peak of their powers), gets a faithful look, proving that James should do free-spirited and uptempo material more often. "I'd Rather Be with You" (Bootsy's Rubber Band) could use more sleaze and Bobby Womack's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" lacks some necessary unease, and it would have been a nice twist for James to tackle something from the last 25 years, but overall, Let's Do It Again is one of Shanachie's best all-covers discs. May James find a support system that allows her to record albums of new material every other year (or so) from here on out. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2010 | Stax

Let’s Do It Again, a covers album released on an independent label in 2009, fared significantly better on the charts than Leela James' 2005 debut, a major-label release. One could interpret this irony as a case of a major mishandling an artist, but it’s just as likely that it took a few years for word about James to spread. She’s one of those R&B singers whose ‘70s-throwback voice belies her birth year (1983), built more for a steady career and a slowly developing fan base than overnight platinum success. Now on Stax, longtime home of Mavis Staples (one of her most evident inspirations), James finds herself in an ideal setting. My Soul is James' best yet in every way. It does not feature quite as many big-name collaborators or eye-popping elements as her debut, but the material is stronger, more balanced between vintage and contemporary sounds, and James sounds more comfortable in her voice. Just as important is that she is coming into her own as a songwriter; four of the songs were written entirely by her, and they are among the album’s most affecting moments, ranging from the yearning, dropped-guard “So Cold,” to the forceful “I Want It All,” to the carefree “Let It Roll.” Do make sure you stay until the end, through the steamy “Supa Luva” and “If It’s Wrong,” as well as the deadly “It’s Over” (“That’s why I changed the locks on my door, ‘cause love don’t live here no more”). © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Soul - Released November 4, 2003 | Reprise

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Soul - Released February 12, 2021 | BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

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R&B - Released December 14, 2018 | eOne Music

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Soul - Released October 18, 2005 | Warner Records

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Soul - Released November 21, 2006 | Warner Records

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R&B - Released October 28, 2016 | BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

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House - Released December 5, 2006 | Blaze Imprints

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R&B - Released May 12, 2017 | BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

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R&B - Released May 12, 2017 | BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

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Soul - Released November 21, 2006 | Warner Records

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Soul - Released August 24, 2005 | Warner Records

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R&B - Released January 1, 2010 | Stax

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Soul - Released November 4, 2003 | Reprise

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Soul - Released November 4, 2003 | Reprise