From a playful soul to a phenomenon
Five years have passed between the release of Pebbles’s debut album, Playful Soul, on the now-defunct Outrageous Records label, and her new offering, Phenomenal, licensed to Sheer Sound.
During those years, Pebbles was lead vocalist for the rock band Newtown, whose versatile, swinging template helped her explore her silky, sometimes grainy tones and play around with different sounds.
She also settled down to a nine-to-five gig in the advertising industry, which helped finance her second solo project.
Because Outrageous Records was primarily a hip-hop record label, one sometimes got the feeling that the singer was associated with the genre by default. The rumbling bass lines and Dillaesque bump of some of the beats, such as those by in-house beat maestro Tongogara, sometimes gave the music a refreshing street edge, but sounded a little out of place at times.
Salvation Eve, for example, was a spoken-word track that floated along serenely until the bass suddenly dropped in, altering the balance of the proceedings a little awkwardly. But the track illustrates another key point about Pebbles’s new direction—the lyrics.
Although at one point she could perhaps have attempted to speak for an entire generation of women, many of the songs here deal with recognising and maximising the power of one, such as the big-band opener Believe, which could be read as the manifesto of an artist struggling to stay true to her chosen path.
The album’s credits confirm this. Pebbles is listed as an executive producer and also shares production credits alongside RJ Benjamin, Amu, Mizi, D’Mongs, Tebogo Moloto and Tongogara.
Not surprisingly, in some of the tracks in which she is listed as the producer, she is at her best, exploring her vocal range, pacing and arrangement. What You Do finds her praising a lover over a funky break beat, upright bass and well-placed horns. All about Me has operatic flair, over a piano progression and light percussion.
Coming of age
Overall, the sound is that of a b-girl coming of age, fading out the boom-bap for a grander, sophisticated vision. But she does cast appreciative looks at her past.
Higher, in which she teams up with Tongogara for old times’ sake, proves she can still surf a bass line like no other.
Phenomenal is a classy affair that hints at the good things about Pebbles’s trajectory and production skills.
But, ultimately, her verve is best experienced on stage.