With Late Nights & Early Mornings, Marsha Ambrosius offers an intimate glimpse into her life, taking the reins as primary songwriter and producer of the album. While collaborations with musical peers, such as Alicia Keys, Dre & Vidal (producers of the Floetry hit “Say Yes”), and Just Blaze provide an edge to a very introspective and sensual album, this work is essentially Marsha.
Ambrosius applies a “less is more” concept, from vocals to production. That’s what makes the album intro, “Anticipation,” such an appropriate foreshadowing of the transparency and seduction that colors the bulk of the album. The subtle intro provides the perfect segue into the intensely alluring “With You,” co-written by label-mate Alicia Keys. The sultry, piano-led track, with its ethereal synths and simplistic beat, showcases the sexy, uninhibited Ambrosius that fans have grown to revere.
On the album’s title track, Ambrosius channels the ever-so-talented Prince, one of her musical idols. From the nostalgic drum samples, to the vintage synths, the song oozes sex and passion, in the same vein as Prince’s ‘Do Me Baby.” Marsha’s falsetto echoes like a mockingbird as she sings, “Gonna be a late night, early morning; when I get you home.”
Following this sexy serenade is the upbeat, debut single, “Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player).” The playful melody, paired with Ambrosius’ superb vocal arrangement and relatable lyrics allow for a welcome deterrent to the rich emotion of the rest of the album.
The slow, familiar chord progressions that preclude “Far Away,” makes it one of the most preeminent songs on the album, and certainly the most radio-friendly. Ambrosius sings a heart-wrenching ballad about love and loss with honest sincerity. The collaboration with producer Just Blaze, and the addition of the portamento bass riffs and crisp snare, somehow manages to mask the pain hidden in the lyrics. Nevertheless, the seven-minute long track is contemporary R&B at its finest, which makes the interjection of her “Lose Myself” cover even more disappointing.
The Lauryn Hill-penned song is an ode to learning to love oneself in order to love another, however the sluggish tempo, paired with the wistful background vocals remove the sense of urgency and command found in the lyrics. Ambrosius sounds out of place; a nod to Ms. Hill’s signature sound.
Ambrosius finds her center again on the Dre and Vidal-produced “Your Hands.” The track centers Ambrosius’ vocals and songwriting abilities, showcasing her ability to convey emotion with a refined minimalism. For the first time, we get a sense of vulnerability from the songstress as her voice quivers, “My love, my soul, I leave my broken heart in your hands.” Lady T would be proud.
While Ambrosius’ musical influences are woven throughout the album, it’s clear that “I Want You To Stay” is the most personal homage on the album. The song, originally written for Michael Jackson’s MICHAEL album, released in 2010, embodies the musical integrity of a Stevie Wonder song while encompassing the vocal stylings of the late King of Pop over a rhythm you can two-step to. The vocal arrangement is streamlined and succinct, yet full of emotion as Ambrosius sings, “Look into my eyes, can’t you see these tears I cry for you?”
The Portishead cover, “Sour Times,” is a gritty detour from the sentimental melodies on the rest of the album. The mandolin and ascending chord progressions, paired with Ambrosius’ subdued vocal performance add drama and appeal. Contrarily, the poignant 6/8 ballad “Tears” is a pleasant reminder of Marsha’s wide range and superb vocal control.
The Syience-produced “Chasing Clouds,” is a self-reflective track about finding one’s way after a relationship gone wrong. The adventurous, mid-tempo track finds Ambrosius competing with booming drums, a clashing that detracts from an otherwise great song.
Ambrosius concludes with “The Break-Up Song,” a melancholy ballad about heartbreak and acceptance. It’s Marsha at her best, intimately pouring her heart out on the shoulders of her piano; an organic pairing of an artist and her instrument. This type of transparency is what made “Butterflies” such a phenomenal record. The remixed version pales in comparison. If it aint broke, don’t fix it.
With Late Nights & Early Mornings, Ambrosius bares her soul and shares her desires. The introspective debut gives the listener a front row seat to witness her growth as a vocalist, songwriter and musician. When left to her devices, her heart and emotion stand naked and self-evident. Her miscues come when she interprets the work of others.
out of 5
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