ALBUM REVIEW: Aaradhna – ‘Brown Girl’: “One of New Zealand’s Best”

Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the globe, New Zealand, with its physical disconnect from the rest of the world, in no way lacks an awareness of musical sensibilities the changing times constantly throws one’s way. Ask Aaradhna Patel, NZ’s own R&B songbird. With a mix of Indian and Samoan music styles and the voice of an angel that befits the style, Aaradhna’s latest offering Brown Girl is an album that sees her go from the broken hearted girl on 2012’s Treble and Reverb to a more soulful and strong woman drawing her influences from her own experience as a woman of colour.

The introductory track, Welcome To The Jungle, draws on the tribal music from India and the soulful pipes of the island of Samoa. Under 2 minutes, the song lays the foundations to the sound and influences Brown Girl draws on and the titular track talks about the racism she’s faced growing up as a biracial New Zealander from members of the Indian, Samoan and local Kiwi communities in the suburbs of New Zealand as a Samoan-Indian. From stereotypes that people expect of one to the hopes and dreams that she’s had for herself, the soulful singer says exactly what every person of colour wants to say out loud. Empty Hall, brings back an updated sound from her earlier album, adding a layer of rock and roll, borrowing Aaradhna’s unique style of harmonies and playing them to add a peppy yet haunting track of lost love on the album.

Then there’s Talk Sweet To Me, the album’s absolute best. A soulful ballad with the piano as its companion, the song shows you that this girl has pipes and control over what she sounds like in a recording studio. The understated production focuses on the singer’s voice and her immaculate harmonies making for an excellent addition.

Drunken Heart, Smokey Mind tries to veer off the path and introduce a new sound with a song on raw abandon, hopeless love and a doo wop sound that doesn’t sound dated. There’s influences of country and a similar beat to Adele’s Send My Love, but equally soulful and radio friendly as the any other track Aaradhna has charted in the past. There’s neo-soul and her mother’s gospel influence on Devil’s Living In My Shadow. There’s a mix of influences – James Brown’s baritone voice and guitar riffs, Mariah Carey’s whistle register, Billie Holiday’s sadness and the soul of everyone that’s been on the stage of Harlem’s famed Apollo theatre on that track.

On Messin Around, Aaradhna enlists production and vocals that are a throwback to the 90s. Radio singles that remind you of an early Whitney Houston, Diana Ross or Mariah Carey sound like the inspiration for Messin Around. There’s a lot of name dropping here, but the vocals and production are eerily so reminiscent of the decades past that it’s not hard to see how Aaradhna’s switch from labels and her stay in LA have influenced the direction her sound has taken over the four years since her last record.

Love makes its return on I’m The One For You, borrowing its tune and rhythm from traditional Samoan music and fleshing out the interludes on Treble and Reverb. It took four years but, even with influences from the previous record, Aaradhna maintains a link that someone who appreciated Treble and Reverb would notice. Forever Love, on first listen is a radio friendly pop track American producers often create to make an artist recognizable on the charts. With its synthesized rhythms and catchy verses, Forever Love is excellent. There’s little to hate about this little gem on the album. If you wanted to enjoy the best Aaradhna has in store for you skip straight to this one. I wasn’t able to listen to the entire album since it was the first one I randomly picked and had to force myself to move on after spending 2 hours playing this one on repeat. If there is a reason to turn to Aaradhna’s music, Forever Love is it.

Under The Blue Moon, is another example of Aaradhna’s Indian influence. In an ode to her musically adept father and his Indian roots, Under The Blue Moon follows the tunes Bollywood made popular in the sixties. Despite her dated inspirations of jazz and R&B music, Aaradhna’s producers have flipped the genre by switching up the pace and the album and cutting down on unnecessary theatrics. The album is shorter and not repetitive like her last one, nonetheless it is just as spectacular.

There’s a story here. A story that needs to be told, but not as much as most would’ve wanted. Elements of Aaradhna’s childhood and her life since Treble and Reverb make a cameo, but the album never ventures much into a social commentary as let’s say Lemonade. I’m not comparing apples to oranges here, but Aaradhna’s creative control slightly misses the point, as the album drops just a little short of what I expected of New Zealand’s vocally rich songstress. Nevertheless, she’s matured. Her sound is still soulful as it has been and she’s here to stay. Her record label may have changed, but there is a fighter in her that simply will not accept labels unless what she brings to the table is appreciated and that alone is all the reason I need to fall in love with her latest record.

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