Join Me as I Ponder Some Of Us Are Brave
Back in the 1980s, there was a number of artists that fused blues and R&B, as well as gospel, soul, and smooth jazz, with rock, pop, and other genres. This was something of a golden age for the blues and R&B as traditional blues artists, such as Bonnie Raitt, broke into the mainstream. This was also the era when blues great Robert Cray emerged, flirting with mainstream fame with Strong Persuader. Similarly, Sade brought soul and R&B back on to the pop charts with her combination of pop and R&B called “Smooth Operator”. Rochester NY, singer Danielle Ponder is reviving that era with her debut album Some of Us Are Brave. Her music is a combination of blues, rock, pop, and gospel, often enhanced with trip hop and dance beats. Vocally, she has an expressive, bluesy, alto – kind of a female Robert Cray.
This voice plus her songwriting yields a potent combination that can produce intense, emotionally charged music such as “Only the Lonely” or “The Only Way Out”. The trip hop beats add an additional dimension to her blues and R&B. They create different musical textures that are sometimes hard edged and anthematic (“So Long, “Only The Lonely”), and other times Sade-level smooth. The latter effect is seen mostly toward the end of the eight song album, especially with the songs “Fray” and “Thoughts”.
Ponder truly shines when she sings gospel. The title track, “Some of Us Are Brave”, and closing track, “Darker Than Blue”, are as near perfect gospel blues as any artist has made with the possible exception of Aretha Franklin. These songs show her true heart, one that feels the emotions of these songs. Her voice is the perfect vehicle for these emotions, rising and falling in volume and intensity, yet with perfect control. It’s a controlled flight through the emotional landscape of her music.
Her voice is also what makes possible the defining quality of her songs – evolution. Ponder’s songs do not remain in a steady state throughout their run time. Some songs, especially “Some of Us Are Brave” and “Only the Lonely”, start with gospel and blues that are in of themselves quiet intense. Ponder then adds slow dance and trip hop beats which amp up the emotional quotient. Her voice moves with the changes in the song, ensuring that the transitions are smooth and logical. She does the opposite on “So Long” beginning what sounds like a trip hop song but then allowing it to evolve into something more akin to 60s soul. All of these changups sound effortless and natural.
Danielle Ponder is a new artist who is, thankfully, getting the attention she deserves. Her songwriting (with help from Avis Reese and Edward Quinn) captures the essence of the blues, R&B, and gospel while still sounding fresh and modern. Her voice is the perfect transmitter for these songs being big, controlled, and smooth. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Ponder. I think it will be great things.