Expect R&B star Leela James to deliver a fiery free concert in the marina
Back in March, L.A.-raised R&B diva Leela James made a splash at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center when she stepped out at the Black Girls Rock festival and introduced a new song, “That Woman”: “I’m not ‘that woman’,” she howled. “Bitch ain’t my name/ Don’t start this fire/ ’Cause I’ll bring the pain.” A righteous declaration of self-respect and purpose, “That Woman” is the statement-making centerpiece of the EP “Are You Ready,” a taut collaboration with the Truth Band that gives James space to rock out in ways she hasn’t previously, at least not in the studio.
The song resonates with the anger and indignation of the #MeToo era. As it showcases James’ tough elasticity and gritty attitude, it also reminds of her spiritual and stylistic antecedent, the late, great Etta James — to whom she lovingly acknowledged her musical debt with the 2012 album “Loving You More,” for which she gave voice to Etta classics in slick modern settings. That was followed by 2014’s sweet and saucy “Fall for You” and 2017’s “Do It for Love,” a feast of mature, lushly arranged ballads and slow jams demonstrating her vocal and stylistic range. Now based in Houston, James remains one of the most gifted, emotionally searing vocalists in modern R&B.
In concert, the petite mother of two projects a commanding presence at once sultry and fierce, not in the least inclined to tolerate disrespect from any quarter. Rumor has it she’s working on yet another project that may represent still another stylistic turn — so expect to be rocked, consoled, soul swayed and stirred when she gives her free outdoor concert on Saturday in Burton Chace Park.
— Bliss Bowen
Leela James plays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 17) at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. Free, but seating is first-come, first-served; RSVPs requested at eventbrite.com.