How do you improve upon classics by Prince, Sade and George Clinton? In most cases, you don't. But Meshell Ndegeocello's Ventriloquism is a rare exception: on this covers album, she pulls new beauty out of favourites from yesteryear.
Sonically, Ventriloquism is risky. Ndegeocello's blend of funk, folk, bluegrass and soul forces you to forget what you know about the songs you hold dear and at times, it gets uncomfortable. But listen closely — there's a lot being said on this album in deceptively simple ways.
With tiny flourishes, Ndegeocello injects new meaning into each song she covers. Her arresting performance of Prince's "Sometimes It Snows in April" is an examination of grief and mourning; Ralph Tresvant's "Sensitivity" is no longer a sultry love song, but sly political commentary (playful cowbells and a clumsy tuba underscore the lyrics "you need a man with sensitivity" and suddenly, images of the White House come to mind); "Private Dancer" is now a dark and dejected waltz that could be interpreted a million ways.
After a few listens, it becomes clear why Ndegeocello plucked music from the '80s and stripped away their glitter and innocence — it's a clever metaphor for her outlook on the world.