On The Sovereign One, Monique Debose’s empowering first album since the pair of Choose The Experience collections that launched her recording career, the versatile L.A. jazz singer showcases a deeply heartfelt, “lived in” vocal artistry that only many years of experiencing and observing life’s pain and triumphs can bring.
Those breakthrough moments range from getting woke to the importance of healing race relations while studying applied mathematics at UC Berkeley to re-emerging from an artistic sabbatical (to raise her family) with her raw and humorous award winning one woman show Mulatto Math: Summing Up the Race Equation in America. Seeing a bit of the world while performing in support of her earlier albums – India, China, London and Amsterdam – no doubt play a part in her freewheeling ability to embrace life beyond the usual borders .
So while certain tunes like the sparsely arranged piano-vocal driven ballad “Make You Love Me” and “Damaged Goods” are personal expressions from across the romantic spectrum, others like “Rally Call,” a stomping rock-gospel-jazz anthem of self-delivery, are fired with a deep social consciousness. Yet even when she’s singing about matters of the heart, there’s an overriding message of transcending our individual stories and having the courage to break free, chart our own courses, following dreams and take back the parts of ourselves that once got away from us.
Emotionally, she’s delightfully all over the map, alternately caressing us with tender hushed elegance, charming us with colorful, witty phrasing or searing our senses with guttural, heartbreaking intensity. Sometimes, as on the passionate closing ballad “Valentine,” she swings quickly from one mode to another (and sometimes back again) to make her points and take us on the rollercoaster journey. Another favorite track, and the most decidedly jazzy and influenced by her early idol Ella Fitzgerald, is “New Wine, Old Skin,” a witty, unapologetic and wildly sensual exploration of newfound chemistry.