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.
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 →