Marsha Ambrosius, an R&B singer’s R&B singer, is responsible for co-writing one of pop’s most intoxicating odes to infatuation. That would be Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies,” perhaps the star’s finest post-Bad single, where his inimitable vocal quavers slam home all the tingly, head-over-heels couplets.
So it’s no surprise that Ambrosius excels in this mode on her new album Nyla, her third as a soloist and fifth if you’re counting her work in the neo-soul duo Floetry. She fills the album’s first half with odes to attraction. There’s “Botta Fulla Liquor,” a fizzy, forceful record that could upend the right club on the right night. (“I can’t help myself whenever I’m around you.”) There’s “I Got It Bad,” a glorious, polyrhythmic number in the vein of D’Angelo’s “Spanish Joint.” (“I want to kiss your face.”) And there’s “Let Out,” a candid, yearning ballad with great horn charts. (“My place or yours?”)
This stretch culminates with “Old Times,” an overwhelmingly bereft single about the one downside of falling in love: Now part of Ambrosius’ happiness is out of her control. The eerie backing vocals and a few of her brief twirls are reminiscent of Jackson, but mostly Ambrosius sings with jagged force, worrying about her absent lover, fretting over distant police lights, not wanting to watch the news. For an artist with this much vocal ability — see “I’m Moving On” — it’s harsh to hear her use her voice like a blunt instrument. And it works; it raises the stakes.
The album takes a somber turn after this; loss is at the core of “Never Be the Same” and “I’m Moving On.” But the overwhelming feeling of “Old Times” remains. Once again, Ambrosius pens a love song that lingers.