‘From Indiana with Love’ by Femi

Femi will grab your attention straight out of the gate with his jaw-dropping cover of the Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine”. He deconstructs and rebuilds this venerable tune as a moody and muted acoustic track before transitioning into a frantic rock track in the second half of the song complete with furious guitar playing and blistering lead playing near the track’s conclusion. Despite these unquestionable peaks, the real beating heart of the performance is his vocal. Femi oozes soul during both portions of the song with his intense phrasing and veers from a pensive folk-singer like delivery into full throated rock singing and even a dash of hip hop thrown into the mix. I think it is safe to say the legendary Bill Withers never imagined his classic sounding like this. Femi deserves massive props for avoiding a simple regurgitation of the original and, instead, taking the song in a much different direction.

Femi teams with singer Shatericka Truman on the album’s second track “Slowly”. It has a little jazz colored punch, but this track owes more of a debt to Femi’s soul and R&B influences while still providing him with ample room to work hip hop into the mix. His rap delivery is a consistent highlight of the release and this is one of its peak moments. The guitar work shines as well with this track. Nothing preceding the album’s fourth track prepares you for the richness you experience with the song “Space for My Guitar”. Blues lovers will be a little agog over the conviction and authentic feeling Femi brings to this recording. One of the song’s main strengths lies in its fluid metamorphosis from acoustic blues into a clear blues rock mold while avoiding any of the heavy handed theatrics lesser performers take on applying themselves to this style.

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Ain’t No Love Song” is another nod in a jazzy direction and Femi duets again with a guest female vocalist. Singer Gina Sobel has a soothing and soulful touch with her voice, but she shows herself capable of diving deep into a sea of emotion as well without ever losing her way. The surprising inclusion of flute as a lead melodic instrument gives this cut a much different spin than other songs on From Indiana with Love and the song’s percussion is tasteful, yet artful. Femi has a clear penchant for working alongside uber talented female singers as the album’s sixth song “Easy” features the considerable skills of guest vocalist Vanessa Wills. Together they tackle one of the better lyrics on the release with different yet similar approaches during some passages and Femi’s hip hop turn providing welcome variation. The jazz feel on this performance is very strong.

The conclusion comes with the song “Senorita” and Indiana Jonesin comes back for a final turn after opening the album backing “Ain’t No Sunshine”. This is as strong of a closer as Femi could hope for thanks to its rock orchestration that takes its time raising the cut from a low key yet smoldering beginning and ending with lead guitar pyrotechnics that are gut wrenching and never self indulgent. It is often a cliché, but listeners will likely agree without reservation that there’s something for everyone on From Indiana with Love and Femi has avoided any sort of sophomore slump with this stunning release.

Gwen Waggoner