Album Review: Liv Warfield
“Paul McCartney got it wrong/ I ain’t never want no song,” the Portland-based belter sings on “Black Bird,” over a strutting, bluesy big-band arrangement a few songs into her sophomore album. “They may try to break my wings/ They only love me when I sing/ I ain’t no slave, I ain’t no queen/ I’m just a black…bird.”
And there are certainly those who would doubt Warfield’s ability to jump-start a career at age 34, playing a brand of soul closer to En Vogue than being en vogue. His Purple Majesty himself served as executive producer, along with penning two songs, and the sound of The Unexpected is similar to his early 2000s comeback records: classic R&B with rock-’n’-roll edges. Prince loans out the NPG horn section, which follows Warfield through the album like a Greek chorus, blending with wailing guitar solos. At times, the energy is canned by the studio slickness that plagued those latter-day Prince albums: The pumping “Why Do You Lie,” though still a highlight, doesn’t pack quite the wallop Warfield brought to her Jimmy Fallonperformance in January.
But even when the production falters, Warfield never does. It’s a testament to her greatest skill as a singer: She’s a powerhouse, yes, but she never lets her pipes obscure her personality. OnThe Unexpected, she displays her full range: playful on “Lena Blue” and “Catch Me If You Can,” sultry on “Your Show,” defiant on “Freedom,” vulnerable on “Come Back.” Can Warfield, who has sold out shows in New York and appeared on national television, actually become a national star? Here’s what’s truly unexpected: She already is one.