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Leela James
, Sunday Dec 23 2012

Like almost all other musicians hit with the neo-soul tag, the primary inspirations of Leela James -- a gritty-voiced singer and songwriter born in Los Angeles, CA -- dated no later than the late '70s; Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Tina Turner were regularly cited. Her debut album, very much a throwback affair, involved assistance from a range of noted studio rats from the fields of rap and R&B, including Kanye West, Raphael Saadiq, James Poyser, Chucky Thompson, and Wyclef Jean. The album, titled A Change Is Gonna Come (a definite reference to Sam Cooke), was released in late June 2005 and peaked just outside the Top 40 of Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart. Despite poor sales, the album fared well enough to earn James nominations for the 2006 Soul Train Music Awards and the same year's NAACP Image Awards. After splitting from Warner Bros., the singer landed on the roster of a new label, Shanachie, and recorded one of the label's more inspired all-cover sets, Let's Do It Again. The album was released in March 2009, with the full-length My Soul following a year later on Stax. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

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