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Marsha Ambrosius talks industry, history, Friends & Lovers

Marsha Ambrosius | photo via http://www.marshaambrosiusmusic.com/
Marsha Ambrosius | photo via http://www.marshaambrosiusmusic.com/

The music industry, like any other momentum-bound field in which people can become loyal professionals, tends to bestow its employees with a sort of tunnel vision. The brilliant young artists who enter the songwriting hustle in their teens or early adulthood, shrouded behind the scenes while quietly architecting major hits for the pop elite, are the ones most likely to feel this myopia. Their craft is plied for the highest bidder, and momentum can build over a painstaking period of time in which songs may go to a poorly-fit artist or languish unearthed for years. Maybe they’ll make it to a songwriter’s own album, but few are so lucky as to have a bigger solo mark than the artists for whom they end up writing.

“Right now, I’m sitting on a patio, looking at palm trees and blue skies, and just taking a moment to just go,” says Marsha Ambrosius over a spotty phone line, exhaling deeply, her exhaustion apparent even in her laughs. “Come next week Tuesday, I’m probably not going to sleep for a year, so I have to get my vacation in now The Liverpool-born singer/songwriter extraordinaire, whose near decade-and-a-half in Philadelphia has done nothing to her accent, is in Los Angeles on a break between tours (one opening for John Legend and another on her own, which lands at the Mann Center on August 2nd). Like any conscientious musician in the public eye, she’s using her break to do the most relaxing thing ever – a gating gun of 20-minute phone interviews, one after another, with music journalists. She’s quick, though, to state her graciousness at being in her unique position.

“Well this is my life, I signed up for this part. This is the part I enjoy, because I get to give it away first,” she says about interviewing. Artists who reach these heights – a solo debut that moved over 90,000 units in it’s first week alone, shared songwriting credits with Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson, and membership in a definitive neo-soul group among them – have probably sat through enough of these interviews to know just how a public image gets managed and scripted at every turn. But for Ambrosius, who’s lyrical signature lies in the no-holds-barred exploration of deeply personal scenarios, the exhaustion and graciousness is best understood as nothing but honest.

Marsha Ambrosius live | via visitphilly.com

On Friends & Lovers, her second solo album which dropped this week via RCA records, Ambrosius is continuing to mine this familiar territory to increasingly grandiose and high-energy conclusions – something, she admits, is somewhat borne of her showbusiness lifestyle.

“I do have a private life to manage…or mismanage, but it makes for great music, especially from a distance. To withstand a lucrative career for the past fourteen years, I’ve been on the road. So anybody who I’ve encountered, whether it be love or lust has had to handle that…or not handle that,” explains Ambrosius about the source of her narratives. One could understand Friends & Lovers as a definitive look into the life of a fast-moving recording industry star – a person who, surrounded by the pace of constant movement and creative energy interspersed with frequent performative obligations, grasps for intimacy in fleeting moments.

In this sense, the album builds from 2011’s Late Nights and Early Mornings in scope. Where Friends & Lovers deviates from its predecessor is precisely things start to get especially interesting. The album is expansive in scope, laced with atmospheric tapestries and shimmering synths at nearly every turn. Ambrosius winds through narratives of erotic passion, emotional vulnerability, and every emotion that runs the gamut of her and others’ deeply personal dalliances. Not every song mines this very specific moment of intimacy – some songs, like album closer “Streets of London”, are based in feelings of homesickness and rootlessness – but the album is unified by these tales of people who have entered and exited Ambrosius’s life as quickly and loudly as they entered it. Ambrosius admits great intentionality here, as many of these songs are sequels to songs on Late Nights. Continue reading →

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Marsha Ambrosius continues her ecstatic personal exploration on Friends & Lovers

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Album art for Friends & Lovers

If an artist’s credentials are supposed to speak for themselves, then few musicians working today have a louder imprint than Marsha Ambrosius. The British-born, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter is probably best known for her deeply sensual and evocative work as one half of Floetry, the duo whose early-2000s blend of RnB- and hip-hop/spoken word aesthetics made them (and this city) synonymous with neo-soul’s golden age. For those who chose to pay attention, however, the 36-year-old chanteuse has continued to supersede expectations and quietly architect some of the best pop and soul music of the past 15 years; her virtuoso vocals and keen ear for soundscapes and hooks are featured on superstar tracks like Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” and Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies”, as well as deeper cuts from Alicia Keys, Kelis, and Jazmine Sullivan.

To be sure, “those in the know” are a pretty big group – her 2011 solo debut, Late Nights and Early Mornings, opened at number 2 on the Billboard 200 and sold almost 100,000 copies in its first week. Propelled by big-name production and co-writing from folks as varied as Keys, Just Blaze, and the ever-enigmatic Lauryn Hill, Late Nights mined the depths of Ambrosius’s fiery passion on songs that quietly overtook the RnB charts.

On Friends & Lovers (RCA), which drops today after prolonged record label troubles, Ambrosius builds off of the first album’s themes to deliver something laced with both continuity and explosive uniqueness. This may be Ambrosius’s finest work since her Floetry days, as well as the most complete manifestation of this pop veteran’s creative mission yet.

Ambrosius’s musical genius is based in a mix of her immense talent and lyrical frankness. Seeds planted while she was in Floetry have come to fruition on her solo records, both of whose titles point towards the kinds of experiences that have influenced most of her work. But whereas Late Nights was a bit scattered, a compendium of amazing songs that worked best in isolation, Friends & Lovers is conceptual and inextricable from its whole. Continue reading →

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Tonght’s Concert Picks: Marsha Ambrosius with GoGo Morrow at the TLA, Lydia at Union Transfer, Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle at ArtsQuest Center

Photo via marshaambrosiusmusic.com
Photo via marshaambrosiusmusic.com

Sophisticated R&B songstress Marsha Ambrosius welcomes local fans aboard her Friends & Lovers Tour tonight at the TLA. Hailing from the UK (via Philly), she stepped away from Floetry to pursue a solo career and released her debut album Late Nights & Early Mornings back in 2011. As a true R&B vocalist, the beauty of Ambrosius’ approach lies in her ability to command a stage with no frills or gimmicks, just her voice. Up-and-coming local favorite GoGo Morrow, who has toured alongside Brandy, Lauryn Hill, and Common, is set to support with her urban jams. Watch “Without You” below and get tickets here.

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