Kehlani - Blue Water Road review: Proof that, yes, Piers Morgan was right
Of course it took visionary pop impresario Piers Morgan to spot the appeal of Kehlani Parrish as a future star. Back in 2011 it was the enemy of the woke himself who watched her singing a bombastic Queen medley with her group Poplyfe on America’s Got Talent, and urged her to go solo. Three albums, three mixtapes and two Grammy nominations later, her cashmere voice has enjoyed high demand as a perfect duet partner for everyone from Justin Bieber and Cardi B to Eminem and Stormzy.
A colourful, sometimes volatile personal life has kept interest in the Oakland, California singer’s lyrics high even when the music has tended towards generically smoochy R&B. It’s hard to keep up with how many characters are involved in More Than I Should, an infidelity-themed collaboration with Jessie Reyez that uses low, digitised “yeah”s for its melody in the style of Ginuwine’s sexually charged Nineties hit, Pony. Get Me Started is lyrically an argument between two female lovers, but the supremely relaxed voice of guest singer Syd and the spacey, languid backing track makes it sound like they’re already very much in the process of making up.
Some of these songs began life intended for a deluxe edition of Kehlani’s last album, the two-year-old It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. That one reached the top 10 both here and in the US, so there should have been demand to hear more, but Kehlani felt that the style here was different enough to merit a completely separate album. There’s a significant boost to the usual energy levels on Wish I Never, which lifts its distinctive beat from Slick Rick’s old school hip hop classic Children’s Story. Though Justin Bieber doesn’t have anything more than the most cliched soppiness to add to Up All Night (“Even when the sun don’t shine, I’ll be right by your side, holdin’ you tight,” etc) the mix of springy bass, funk guitar and eastern flute sounds make for a song that’s far more engaging than its lyrics.
There’s still a fair bit of smooth emoting over meandering guitar lines, but also plenty that’s different. Thundercat does a remarkable amount to lift Wondering/Wandering with his bass. Best of all is Altar, an atmospheric groove that really takes off when the chorus arrives. It’s enough to maintain her status near the top of the R&B world and force us to say, through gritted teeth, that Piers Morgan was right.