Like Tina Turner, you get the feeling from listening to Tamar-kali’s debut album Black Bottom that she never did anything nice and easy. But it’s that struggle she articulates to come into her own that has helped Tamar-kali create Black Bottom, and the result is an exhilarating, cathartic rock n roll tour de force.
In many ways, this album flows like a coming-of-age story. Not so much of a young girl growing into a woman, but rather the transformation of a young woman who’s unsure of her own power into the warrior goddess who’s fierce with the light of her own clarity.
The album’s opener “Pearl” sets the tone for the rest of the album: focused, powerful, grinding guitar lines, sharp, crashing drums and a distinctive, reverberating low end. She sings:
her oyster walls this big city
she is the pearl roughly confined
and to you alls still a mystery
filled with doubt though she is ripe
so she moves anxious but steadily
fading now into the night
And it only gets better from there.
It would be a selling her short to talk about Tamar-kali as just a powerful voice and well-written songs. And it’s true: She can shift her voice at will, one moment a caress, the next piercing or pummeling. No, what’s also striking about Black Bottom is the feeling you get of catharsis. Not a word I use too often when talking about music, largely because I don’t have that experience often. And I credit this to her ability to as a composer, not just as a lyricist. There goes that clarity thing again, in that I feel like there was a very strong vision on her part. Not only did she know what she wanted sonically, but she was able to get that out of her band. That’s no small thing.
You want specifics? I can’t listen to “Caught” or especially “Warrior Bones” without wanting a cigarette afterwards. And I don’t smoke.
Yeah, “Warrior Bones.” If you chart this person’s development through all the songs—‘cause not all the songs are necessarily about her–this song is like that moment in The Matrix, where Morpheus says, “He is finally beginning to believe.” Or when the warrior, rejuvenated, comes down from the temple ready to face her opponents. But, even though she’s ready for battle, not everyone else is:
These warrior bones ache for revolution
But the people ain’t ready
These pathetic souls yearn for revelation
But there’s no message, just silence.
After one listen, I dare you try to walk down the street without that stuck in your head.
Even when you think you’re catching a break from the fury and wrath—check out the melodious first half of “Maimed” with its shuffling beat riding just under her honeyed delivery—ferocity is never far away.
And I gotta give it up to the band–Jerome Jordan on rhythm guitar; Jeremiah Hosea on bass; Mark Robohm on drums, and Thom Loubet on rhythm/lead guitar—these guys are tight and they can stop on a dime. And Tamar has said as much that these guys are an equally important part of this story.
Yes, this album is soulful. But make no mistake: This is a rock album through and through. And it’s also easily made the list Boldaslove.us’ Best of for 2010.
Wanna check it out? Ready to buy? You can do all of that here.
UPDATE & DISCLOSURE: Tamar-kali and I are working together on a couple of projects.