19 March 2016 01:27PM
A number of Aretha Franklin’s early seventies hits were recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama — a curious musicological factoid, given that there, she, the queen of soul, was always backed by four white session musicians, nicknamed “the Swampers”.
Lady Moon & The Eclipse, who played Club Helsinki last night, has a similar setup, and with the same glorious synergy. From the outset, Arlen Hart on keys, Jonathan Camuzeaux on bass, and Ken Reichl on drums (all white, but with the signature Badila tribal face markings) established a roiling mix of deeply punctuated and tightly timed funk and jazz riffs, which didn’t let up for a beat.
Lady Moon is Hudson’s own, now Brooklyn-based, Ngonda Badila, a latter-day Aretha, who delivers belting message songs in the mold of “Respect”, but hinged more in African than Southern tradition, backed by her demure twin sister Ntangou and the effervescently appealing Aatifa Drayton, both of whom contributed impressively rehearsed vocal texture, gestural accompaniment, and stinging small instrument percussion.
Lady Moon herself is a veritable Nefertiti: gorgeous, as supremely lithe as Diana Ross, and apparently inexhaustible in performance. Her voice is simply terrific, with great inflexion and range. Her songwriting skills veer between infectious (“Believe”), ingenious (“Running”), and, I’m afraid, sugary (“Travel the World”), but it’s an undeniably potent and crowd-pleasing body of work. Last night’s sell-out show had them dancing in the aisles.
Less impressive is Ms Badila’s tentative, sometimes treacly patter. The medium is the message, and Ngonda’s medium is her singing, not spoken voice. Except for the touching prelude to a song for her late father (Andre Badila, beloved patriarch of an extraordinary family), and unless she really works at it, it would be better to cut it. The songs speak for themselves: soaring, sexy, impassioned, and inspiring, they would be presented to even greater effect uninterrupted, as a purely ecstatic continuum, performed above the fray. When Lady Moon truly finds her own voice, she could well be star-bound.
Opening was Texas-born Starr Busby, who looks more like Aretha than Moon, and with a voice to match. With Frances, her pedal-operated device for raw beat and backing, her efforts to mine the gospel mode and transport her audience with her vast vocal range worked gorgeously at times, particularly in her heartfelt tribute to Sandra Bland, but became somewhat repetitive. Ms Busby might also do well to curtail the patter, and focus on the thrills.
Despite its somewhat simplistic mystical overtones, the evening was a wonderfully entertaining lesson in how the power and spirit of Aretha endures, re-conceived, in successive generations and different styles. Soul is so good for you!
Photos by Enid Futterman:
1 Lady Moon
2 Lady Moon & The Eclipse
3 Jonathan Camuzeaux, Aatifa Drayton, Ntangou Badila
4 Ntangou Badila
5 Lady Moon
6 Starr Busby