Nowadays, when I drive long distances, I'm too distracted to invest in listening to a whole album. (It's probably why I'm not the music editor.) My mind races as fast as my Mazda does along the highway. If I'm not talking on the phone or listening to a podcast, I'm dreaming up ideas — stories, covers, projects — I want to make reality here at Creative Loafing. Music becomes white noise, the background texture of what I hope will become an effective piece of story-telling for our readers.
I've not always been such a workaholic though. Music was once my solace, a good friend who could put into words the emotions I couldn't express. Especially whenever love was involved.
When Jazmine Sullivan's first album Fearless dropped in 2008, I was young and dumb, only out of college for two years. I don't remember how I came to own a copy, but for months, it was on regular rotation in my car. Every song spoke to me. I was 25 and felt like Lauryn Hill; Sullivan was singing my life with her words.
In 2011, shortly after releasing her second album, the R&B songstress announced she was taking an indefinite break from the music industry. Almost four years later, she's back with a new album and a 12-city tour. The first single from Reality TV, "Dumb" with Meek Mill, suggests she's still the soulfully scorned woman she was when she released Fearless.
In anticipation of Sullivan's March 5 show at the Fillmore, I spent a little time re-listening to her first album. It was like peeking into the dark corners of my past.
Only 27 years old, Sullivan has focused on producing music that embodies the female experience — and when I say that, I'm using my own history to justify that statement.
I'll only admit this to you, dear readers: Hearing "Bust Your Windows," the first track on Fearless, again stirred long-suppressed memories of anger against an old boyfriend. While the strings seduce a listener into the Latin beat-laced instrumentals, I can recall, years ago, singing the song loudly in my apartment, practically spitting out the title line with emphasis on the verb: "I bust the windows out your car."
Twenty-five-year-old me may not have physically taken a bat to the ex's Volvo when he cheated, but I didn't feel the need to after belting out such a powerful song. Like Carrie Underwood did for country fans in "Before He Cheats," Sullivan offered listeners a track where we could own up to destructive feelings that threaten to overwhelm us when we're hurt.
That picture of a love lost is painted with more defining details in "After the Hurricane." As Sullivan's painful croons washed over me again, her words hit me in the throat: "'Cause when the tears start flowin' and the wind starts blowin'/That's how you know, that's how you know it's comin' for you." I remembered the hurricane — same guy — that ripped my own world apart.
Or, at least that's the way I saw it then. I was a little melodramatic in my younger days.
But Fearless is about more than a woman dealing with a broken heart. Sullivan brings the listener inside her own head with "Fear." Thanks to some writing help from Stevie Wonder, the single shines light on a female performer's insecurities. The redundancy of "I'm scared to" in the lyrics strengthens Sullivan's message that everyone has fears. Hers were moving on, being alone and failing; mine were — and sometimes still are — too.
In her newest album, Sullivan reveals she can still effectively sing of a woman's experience, and she does so with velvet grit and bluesy elegance. The scorned lover still gets her moments — see "Dumb" and "Stupid Girl." But for anyone who's ever painted her face to hide a blemish or accentuate a favorite facial feature, "Mascara" — about a woman who gets by on her looks — is relatable, too: "So I never leave the house without the makeup on/I keep mascara in my pocket if I'm running to the market/'Cause you never know who's watching you/So I got to stay on."
It's a track I can see myself bumping in my ride speeding down I-77 — it's only 4 minutes long.