When I first saw Ledisi perform live over 10 years ago, she was early in her career, playing a $5 show in San Francisco across the Bay from her hometown of Oakland (via New Orleans). Her energy, presence and vocal ability were jaw-dropping. Instead of performing, it was like she was bearing her soul to the audience, who, initially just a group of anonymous strangers, were made to feel as if they had connected with her on an intimate level in the midst of her performance. She expressed herself free, in every sense of the word, with shoes kicked off and no concern with sweating out her hair, she was uninhibited and raw, digging deep into being and feeding off of her band and loyal followers who knew every word from her first indie release, Soulsinger. As much as I liked her music since then, it’s as if something special has been lost in translating her live show to her recorded albums. With Ledisi’s new acoustic recording, the EP The Intimate Truth, we get closer to the Ledisi live experience more than any other album she’s released (save for her limited release Feeling Orange but Sometimes Blue).
As the title implies, the album reinterprets several tracks from Ledisi's 2014 release, The Truth. Recording this EP, she feeds off the collective energy of the musicians, background vocalists and stripped-down live instrumentation to give us something warmer, more crisp and more colorful than on her previous Verve releases. That heightened energy allows her to connect more intimately with the emotional center of each track and translate that emotion more personally on each song. The tenderness and affection is all the more palatable on “Rock with You,” the passion more pronounced on “Lose Control” and her confidence on a whole other level on “That Good Good.”
The heightened emotional connection also allows her to engage in more effective storytelling with her voice. This ability is particularly potent on “The Truth,” where she’s able to convey the emotional peaks and valleys that accompany the experiences of someone falling out of love, the pain of recognizing the end of a relationship and the anguish involved with separation in a very genuine and emotionally vulnerable way.
Most importantly, the acoustic aspects give me something I’ve been waiting for from a Ledisi album, space to get loose with her vocals. Having to lay her vocals over a pre-recorded track limits her ability to improvise, hindering her from what she does best, expressing herself in the moment. What we get from this collection and not others are the nuances of her improvisation -- scatting, extemporaneous riffs, uninhibited howls, guttural screams and other vocal expressions that can only come from being fully in the moment. She also gets to showcase her range and other features of her vocal gift in a way she has not been able to on other albums, hitting flawless high notes on “Rock With You” and extending notes powerfully and with the greatest of control on “I Swear.”
The Intimate Truth brings us closer to seeing Ledisi for who she is as a vocalist more than any of her major label releases. With The Intimate Truth Tour to support this project on the horizon, Ledisi will display her vocal skill for audiences to hear for themselves from coast-to-coast soon. If you know like I know, it would behoove you to attend and to add Ledisi's The Intimate Truth to your collection while you wait.