Mojo (Publisher) (p.91) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Her rendition of 'Strange Fruit' in a deep jazz setting makes for a potent, unnerving listen..."
Audio Mixer: Mitch Yuspeh.
Recording information: M & I Studios, New York, NY.
Unknown Contributor Role: Ian Blackaby.
While Nona Hendryx hasn't released an album in 20 years, she hasn't exactly been idle. Along with being an adjunct professor at the Tisch School, she reunited with Labelle in 2007 for both a record and a tour, scored Charles R. Wright's play BLUE, contributed to the soundtrack for the film Precious, and guested on drummer Terri Lynne Carrington's fine Mosaic Project album. As has been her wont since she began writing for Labelle, Hendryx is a keen observer of the American political scene and is a social activist. On Mutatis Mutandis (translation: "Changing those things which need to be changed"), her debut for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label, those penchants inhabit the lyrics in these ten self- and co-written cuts, and are fueled by funk, soul, and rock grooves (sometimes simultaneously). Hendryx is completely pissed off here and it makes for a riveting listen. Opener "Tea Party" is a funked-up screed. With its James Brown-esque "on the one" guitar (courtesy of Ronnie Drayton) and bassline, punched-up horns, backing vocals, and snapping snares, she can make the dancefloor quake and doesn't couch her anger in politically correct speech. "Temple of Heaven" is a vocal stunner that would not have been out of place on a Labelle record. Guitarist Ronnie Drayton and bassist Warren McRae seamlessly wrap Hendryx in funk, blues, and rock on the transcendent eros of "Let's Give Love a Try." "Oil on the Water" (about the BP oil spill) is a souled-out groover à la the Staple Singers. "When Love Goes to War" is a Prince-inspired soul rave-up with Hendryx showcasing all of her vocal gifts. "Black On Black" is a slow-burning funk with Hendryx performing on all instruments and echoing Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" in its message. Her version of Lewis Allen's classic "Strange Fruit" is all but unrecognizable, but no less poignant for it. Introduced by samples of Dr. Martin Luther King speaking, she employs distorted guitars, dissonant saxophones, and brass with a vocal performance reminiscent of Leon Thomas. It's an entirely new arrangement that places the tune at the forefront of global racial, sexual, and cultural politics. This version will go down as one of the most notable in the canon, and is the most inspired performance here. While it's true that the topical nature of the songs here may date the album somewhat, this is a risk for any songwriter who takes on injustice. That said, Mutatis Mutandis' passion, vocal excellence, musical excellence, fine production, and its groove quotient all serve to make it a standout in Hendryx's catalog. ~ Thom Jurek
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