If you have not heard of Leela James, get ready, because that is probably about to change. The soul/R&B singer-songwriter’s name is finding its way into the mouths of music critics and fresh fans thanks to the release of her latest single “Say That” featuring Anthony Hamilton. Since her break onto the music scene in 2005 with her debut album A Change Is Gonna Come, James has steadily built her signature brand of big soulful vocals, with big “swallow her face” hair to match. But her upcoming fifth album (slated for release in early 2014) for which “Say That” is the first single could be the charm that changes the game for James and brings her explosive brand of soulful music to the masses in a huge way.
After listening to “Say That” I couldn’t wait to see James perform the single live at NYC’s Highline Ballroom last night. You know the feeling when you hear a song and fall in love with it, so much so that the idea of experiencing said song by way of a live sonic performance keeps you up at night with excitement and anticipation? Well folks, when Leela James exploded onto the Highline Ballroom stage and started to belt out “Long Time Coming,” I knew that I was in for more than just a singular magical moment with a musician by way of a song. I was in for a treat, an hour-long party with James front and center as the jam master.
Within two minutes, everyone was up on their feet as James got James Brown on us with, “Hit me one time! Hit me two times!! Hit me three times!!!” a call that the band energetically responded to in kind in syncopated succession. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist explode onto the stage with such raw energy and already turned up to ten, and it was infectious. I battled with myself many moments during the show, finding myself unable to decide whether to settle my sight on James onstage or the fans who feverishly lost themselves in her music.