Marsha Ambrosius steams up TLA

At the TLA Wednesday, Marsha Ambrosius' overt sexuality never distracted from the potency of her tunes; instead, it was a forceful enhancement.
At the TLA Wednesday, Marsha Ambrosius' overt sexuality never distracted from the potency of her tunes; instead, it was a forceful enhancement. (RCA)
Posted: March 23, 2014

If 2011 had a signature soul sister, it was Marsha Ambrosius.

The Philadelphia (by way of Liverpool) singer, songwriter, and one-time member of the rap-and-R&B outfit Floetry released her solo debut, Late Nights & Early Mornings, in March 2011. The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's R&B Charts, No. 2 on the Top 200 Album Chart, each live show was more silken and passionate than the last, and Ambrosius far outran the typecasting of neo-soul that Floetry brought.

Like Phyllis Hyman without the tragic torchiness, Ambrosius' voice and lyrics spoke cattily of wronged romance and haughtily of sour times with jazzy aplomb and salty tenderness. Her (then) record label folded into its parent company (RCA), so it's taken a minute for new material, but, she appeared on the soundtrack to 2013's hit flick The Best Man Holiday and sold out the TLA on Wednesday for her Friends & Lovers show, named for her forthcoming album.

After quiet-storming the stage with the orchestral sweep and aquatic ambience of Sade's "Love is Stronger than Pride," with elastic highs and stewing new lyrics about "wasting my time," Ambrosius' commenced with funny, ribald patter that lingered throughout her set's steamiest songs. The show included new tunes like "69" and the cool, clipped balladry of "Friends & Lovers" and hits like the venomous "Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player)," in which she turned vengeance operatic with teetering falsetto highs.

Ambrosius' overt sexuality never distracted from the potency of her tunes. Instead, it was a forceful enhancement, a sensualist's punctuation to the heartbroken, jazzy sway of "I Want You To Stay" and the earthy plea of "Far Away." The simmer of sex is what gave her version of "Butterflies," a song of hers that Michael Jackson covered, the proper emotional wallop to match its pangs of innocence and the might of its sweet melody.

That Ambrosius followed "Butterflies" with a take on Jackson's "I Can't Help Myself" was glorious. The only thing that could top that was the show's near-finale - a surprise appearance by Philly's grand dame diva Patti LaBelle, who swept her way through her yearning classic "If Only You Knew," patented hand swivels intact, and Ambrosius' slow-burning-and-yearning "Say Yes" from her days with Floetry. Amazing.

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