Carlitta Durand has said she set out to make I’ll Be Gorgeous When I Die “like a live album.” For a singer like Durand, who’s been largely absent from the local music scene since having her first child several years ago, it’s a fitting strategy for re-entrycharm us all, like we’re sitting in a room together. Before she paused her career, Durand was a go-to vocalist for Nicolay Rook and Phonte Coleman (on both their solo ventures and their The Foreign Exchange enterprise) and the hip-hop community at large. A peerless singer, she was an in-demand harmony-and-hook syndicate.
She brings all of this experience to bear on her comeback but leaves the past associations on the album’s doorstep. There isn’t a single chord from Nicolay, for instance, nor are there any featured rappers. It’s just Durand, her band Fat Snacks, and a colony of producersAbjo, Flash Frequency, JaJuan Cofield, GC le fresh, Vaughn Garcia, Harvey Cummings, JC Martin. Together, they design a rich love suite, brighter and better than Durand’s prior EPs and full-lengths.
If you were, however, anticipating some repeat magic from Nicolay and Durand’s “Lose Your Way” or “Saturday Night,” you won’t get it. Instead, producer Abjo offers an enhanced take on that sound for “100 Nudges of Love,” where hollow, wind-like synths and delayed drum-and-bass offer a big bed for Durand’s affections. If it’s played live, Fat Snacks drummer Tim Scott Jr. will have his work cut out for him. His jazz background delights during Durand’s “Colors Fade,” where she gets pleasantly close to vocal jazz, a singing style at which she’s only hinted in the past. Over rolling cymbals and sinking keys, Durand sings, “You used to color me and make my sun set/Right now you just color me and darken all my light.” Her voice drifts into Fat Snacks’ instrumental captivity.
Durand is at her most vulnerable on “House of Birds,” an acoustic number stripped only to a guitar, her lead vocals and her own layered background vocals. She’s not a great folk singer or songwriter yet, but she can still hit rhythmic, soul specials like “Everything” and “Find A Way” and fireside lullabies like “The Other Side” and “Care For You” with ease. The chance is worth taking for the resurgent Durand, as this album is a reminder of her capabilities and a requiem for the three years when the area lacked one of its most enchanting voices.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Arrivals, departures and Additions.”