When it comes to paying tribute to the blues genre, there’s almost nothing less daunting. The genre, accompanied and integrally linked to jazz via both the shared musical DNA and origin locale, is one of the most important core pieces of modern music history, and the material to focus on is nothing if not ever-expanding. Artists like B.B. King and Muddy Waters top the list of the most influential blues musicians, historically, but as far as modern blues artists go there aren’t a ton of candidates to choose from, unfortunately. The current soundscape of blues and soul music finds itself linked either first and foremost to modern country, or it segues deeper into R&B and eventually hip-hop or rap — for blues purists, Soulful Femme is here to lead the charge on bringing the true genre experience back to the people.
Soulful Femme might be a name that feels familiar; for years, the duo of lead vocalist Stephanie “Stevee” Wellons and guitarist Cheryl Rinovato have been providing live entertainment in the form of concerts both in the iteration of Wellons’ previous band, the Stevee Wellon’s Band, as well as Soulful Femme, but hadn’t ever released an actual album together as the latter. It feels strange to only refer to It Is Well With My Soul as a debut album considering the history between Wellons and Rinovato, but the album truly does function as their first, as polished and experienced as it might initially come off.
Don’t misconstrue the point: It Is Well With My Soul is a phenomenal album. The initial shock mostly comes from the fact that this feels like an album an artist or group would release several years and albums deep into their careers and not something as their introductory outing. It’s that substantial and well-oiled of a machine and works perfectly as the thesis for anything the band might release in the future, though Soulful Femme feels unpredictable enough to offer up something completely different with their next release. Regardless of what the future holds, the current state of Soulful Femme is one worth celebrating and championing. The almost eerie, ghost town anthem “40 Under” gives the album a much-needed breach into epic territory, offering up a grand flex from Soulful Femme’s storytelling wheelhouse, whereas “Born To Blues” delivers a simple blues hit with a favorable yet expected rhythm. It’s not an album that comes out of the gate as a self-declaration from some so-called saviors of a genre, but it does feel like something that could ultimately function for most casual listeners as a brilliant first step or reintroduction dip into this generally forgotten piece of a musical past.
Some other tracks worth giving a listen to outside of the scope It Is Well With My Soul include “Judgment Day,” which initially saw release as a single last year, as well as the phenomenal “Trouble.” The album as a whole functions within a level of depth that isn’t worth listening to as a piecemeal thing, though, so the best approach to give the album would be going for a drive on a road to nowhere to listen. The album will transport you and fly by, and the way the intro and outro tracks function as gorgeous bookends for this mammoth project complement the artistry from Wellons and Rinovato excellently.
by Bethany Page