Jalen Ngonda’s music is inextricably linked to the soul records of his childhood, but doesn’t want to be chained to them. The Washington DC-raised, UK-based artist takes his cues from traditional and much-loved records from the scene, but says he’s determined to push them into something fresh.
“To a stranger, I would say my music is soul/R&B, while trying to fit in The Beach Boys and The Beatles somewhere in between,” Ngonda has said of his sound, and the prioritisation of melody from the music of both of those reference points is also written all over his debut album, ‘Come Around And Love Me’.
Released via the legendary Daptone label, ‘Come Around And Love Me’ is a wonderfully smooth, dramatic album of modern soul and R&B, all brought together by an exhilarating, hair-raising voice. Sometimes, like at the start of the shuffling ‘That’s All I Wanted From You’, he’s stretching his voice into an almost shout with superb power. Elsewhere, ‘Lost’ sees him swing effortlessly between near-spoken word and soft, melodic singing.
Other highlights come in the form of the irresistibly smooth ‘It Takes A Fool’ and comparably energetic closer ‘Rapture’, all bound together by a voice that’s constantly surprising, fresh and technically superb.
It’s this virtuosic singing and the pure charisma bursting out of every sinew that sets the album, and Ngonda, apart. With the music staying at a largely similar tempo across the album, it’s his voice that provides the power, variety and a focal point. Some of the singer’s reported contemporary influences, such as Angel Olsen, Fleet Foxes and Arctic Monkeys, don’t cut through quite enough into the album’s sound, and furthering the experimentation on future projects is an exciting prospect.
The future for Ngonda is unknown, but if ‘Come Around And Love Me’ shows – with expert precision and huge reverence – where he came from and the music he fell in love with as a child, album two might be the one to push things forward into new territories. As it is, the debut album sets the table for a vibrant new soul singer with the world at his feet.
- Release date: September 8
- Record label: Daptone