Musical collaboration is a beautiful thing, but there’s something about the pure, no-frills quality of a jazz album that makes you want to pour yourself a Jim Beam on the rocks and sink into a leather sofa. Lili K, a Milwaukee-born and Chicago-bred songstress, has already made a name for herself in the Chicago hip hop scene. On April 21st, she dropped her self-produced debut album Ruby, and we can’t help but get drunk on this gem.
You’ve heard her crooning on Acid Rap and Innanetape’s tracks and watched her share the stage with Chance The Rapper, Musiq Soulchild, Dwele, BJ The Chicago Kid and Vic Mensa. On Ruby, Lili channels old school jazz songstresses Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu and Sharon Jones, accompanying her sultry voice with her band’s soulful drums/percussion (Myron Cherry), keyboards (William Kurk), guitar (Cullen Bogan) and bass (Matthew Skillz).
She opens the album with “Mama Told Me,” a raw hit straight out of a jam session. It’s rather short at just a minute and fifteen seconds, but sets up the listener for the rest of the album. Sounds of my Jim Beam being poured in the background and soft keys in the foreground prelude Lili’s entrance on the mic; her melody goes down soothing and sensual like the first sip of a cocktail.
“Pour Some Shuga” starts to pick up the pace with the inclusion of more drums/percussion by Myron Cherry. Her voice is sassier and a little more soulful, maybe even a dash of funk through the hook (“No, no more”). Really, this song should be opening her live shows. It hooks the listener with melody and easy lyrics. I’d let her pour some ‘shuga on me after this track.
That old school vibe really comes into play in “I Don’t Want You No More.” It starts off William Kurk killing it on the keys, rattling off a melody flawlessly and effortlessly. Lili comes in and breaks your heart with her dynamic range and strong vocal projection. It’s already engaging when the tempo picks up two minutes in with Myron Cherry taking lead on drums. It’s punchy as all hell, and when Cullen Bogan comes in with his intense guitar solo, it’s almost as if you’re in that studio jammin’ with them.
Picking up and dropping the tempo is a simple and effective way to keep the listener engaged. Lili and her band know this and are unabashed in conjuring up a balance of slow and fast hits. “One Mo’ Time” takes a step back with gentle, rich keyboards, percussion, and the sweet song of the trumpet. Lili’s vocals seem to accompany the instruments on this one which doesn’t diminish the quality whatsoever. The song picks up at the hook and some natural scatting and jazz plays out at the end; it’s a compelling combination of modern and vintage improvisational jazz. At 56 seconds, “Hold On” seems like a conclusion to “One Mo’ Time” is short n’ sweet, keeping your head bopping and transitioning beautifully to my two favorite songs on this album, “Know Enough” and “Forgive Me.” “Know Enough” is catchy with Lili and backup singers harmonizing throughout; it’s a little edgy like “Pour Some Shuga” and a little more heartfelt like “I Don’t Want You No More.” This would honestly be a great closer for live shows.
“Forgive Me” just kills me; I’m a sucker for the poignant songs, the melodic lyrics and instruments that bring a tear to your eye. The violin enters and engages the listener instantly (when the violins come out to play, you know it’s going to get serious). The lyrics drive this song (“Forgive me for my fits of jealousy. I’m just a woman loving you imperfectly. So when you’re mad, just hold me.”) and make the raw and distinctive tones of Lili’s mezzo soprano stand out (“Oh, let, just let, it go”). All in a wall, it’s a well shaped melody and probably one of the strongest pieces on this album.
It’s hard to follow up “Forgive Me,” and perhaps she knew this. “Tommy” is a simple and charming love song, nothing too fancy. She continues on the same path with the next tune, “Refreshing.” Though not as impressive in lyrics (“I feel so refreshed without you”) and melody, it still gets your head-boppin’ and keeps your interest with the background percussion. “Work of Art” closes out with 46 seconds of harmony and another tribute to her mama (it’s definitely an extension of the opener “Mama Told Me”). All in all, ending on a good note.
As traditional as Lili and the band’s performance is on the album is, it’s also bold. When you’re listening to an album that sounds like you’re sitting in on a live jam sesh, it can be easy to lose command of the performance. Lili keeps her melodies and vocals disciplined while the band works together harmoniously; it’s almost effortless. I’m a firm believer that her live shows will blow you away. Don’t forget to order your bourbon at the bar.