Soul singer Acantha Lang’s first full-length album, “Beautiful Dreams”, dropped last week, finally seeing her statement debut in a collection of songs mixing new releases with tracks that have been out for months or even years. Lang was raised in New Orleans and started her musical career in New York, working with some of the city’s most renowned session musicians and earning a position as the first female MC of The Box. This led her to a residency at The Box’s sister club in London, where she has been living and working on recording this album. Despite her international career, “Beautiful Dreams” feels like it comes straight from the golden era of soul, immediately bringing to mind comparisons to the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, and, from a more modern perspective, Menahan Street Band.
From an overview, the vocal performance and instrumentation all across the album are immaculate. The backing vocals stand out as anchoring the album to the genre where some elements of the production and songwriting feel a little more modern and the variety of songs makes the project feel varied enough that it stays interesting for the almost hour-long run across 13 tracks.
The second track, “Come Back Home” shows off Acantha Lang’s songwriting and vocal skills and stands out as an energetic production across the board. Meanwhile, “Eventually” feels intimate, with tightly placed instrumentation that brings a nice variety to the album. Then, on another end of the spectrum, “River Keep Runnin’” shows the openness to break the mould of the genre and bring in some blues-rock guitar and the extended version of “Ride This Train” is indulgent and fun, giving a break from some of the more serious tracks on the album.
On the other side of the work, there are a couple of points that feel like missed opportunities to pull the album up a level. The title track, “Beautiful Dreams” is a perfect example of how some of the songs feel a little flat compared to her best songs. They seem a little overcompressed and overproduced where songs in the world of soul typically would see a lot of dynamic variety and a roomy feel that make it sound more live and natural.
Occasionally, some of the songwriting feels lacking though it might simply appear this way because tracks like “He Said / She Said” and “Come Back Home” are so brilliant that they overshadow any weaker tracks. “Lois Lang”, for example, feels like it is trying to convey a world and story but just doesn’t quite live up to what it is trying to do. In a similar vein, “A Word From My Mamma” is a nice interlude to break up the album but doesn’t hit as hard as it could have had it been a little less scripted.
Despite the inclusion of a few songs which trail behind in comparison to the quality of the best tracks on the album, “Beautiful Dreams” is a great debut project that Acantha Lang should be truly proud of.
Written by Sebastian Sheath for Pop Magazine
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