Annika Chambers – Wild And Free | Album Review

Annika Chambers – Wild & Free

Under The Radar UTR-CD40929

12 songs – 47 minutes

Annika Chambers celebrates her freedom and return to society with this sensational, long-awaited follow-up to her extremely well-received 2014 debut album, Making My Mark.

A Houston native who sang in the church and was influenced by Shirley Caesar, Yolanda Adams and Dottie Peoples, as well as Whitney Houston, she spent two tours in the U.S. Army, where a colonel heard her vocalizing one day and urged her to sing the National Anthem at a military ceremony.

Chambers’ powerful alto voice became in-demand for all base events. She won a base-wide talent show, and quickly started performing in a touring band that lifted the spirits of military personnel at bases in Iraq and Kosovo. Upon discharge, she returned to Texas, where she made her mark with her House Rules Band.

Annika rocketed to stardom with Making My Mark, which earned her a Blues Music Award Rising Star nomination. But success was fleeting. Her career came to a screeching halt in 2015, when working as a recruiting assistant for the Texas National Guard, she was embroiled in a scheme to obtain fraudulent bonuses for acquiring new recruits. Her involvement was minor. She pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and spent six months in jail. Others involved will be imprisoned for the better part of a decade.

Her error in judgment paid in full, Wild & Free should rocket Chambers back to the top of the blues scene where she definitely belongs. After the passing of Koko Taylor, Taylor’s daughter Cookie anointed Shemekia Copeland as her successor as Queen Of The Blues. One listen to this album will prove to you that Annika deserves a place in her circle.

Chambers is backed by the full complement of the Phantom Blues Band/Taj Mahal band: guitarist Johnny Lee Schell, keyboard player Mike Finnigan, bassist Larry Fulcher and drummer Tony Braunagel. The album was recorded at Schell’s Ultratone Studio in Los Angeles and produced Braunagel, Fulcher and Richard Cagle. Guest artists include pianist Jon Cleary, guitarist Josh Sklar on six of the 12 cuts, and Nicoya Polar and Melody Perry on backing vocals.

The disc opens with a fiery cover of “Raggedy And Dirty.” It served as an intense anthem for Luther Allison, and Annika makes it her own with a few lyrical changes as she demands acceptance. A cover of Otis Clay’s gospel-flavored “City In The Sky” continues the message forward as Chambers states she “won’t miss the city she leaves behind” when the heavens open.

With “Better Things To Do” turns her back on the theme that misery loves company as she sets her sights on her man rather than the past. Next up, “Give Up Myself,” written for Annika by Darryl Carter, who penned dozens of hits for Memphis’ Stax and Hi labels, finds Chambers wondering: “Why do I have to give up myself to love you?”

The singer cries “Six Nights And A Day” after her lover walks away before the music slows down and mellows for “Put The Sugar To Bed,” a tender song about love at first sight, which follows the title with the line: “Ain’t nothin’ left to be said.” The theme continues with the self-penned “Reality,” which questions the truthfulness of the situation, before “Don’t Try And Stop The Rain” cautions listeners to let the tears fall when you’re hurting because the waterfall is not in vain.

The autobiographical “Why Me” is an introspective realization about past failures and poor choices while seeking positive guidance from above for the future, while “I Prefer You” sings praise for a man who isn’t as rich or good looking as other men, but his heart is true. Another ballad, “Piece By Piece” – a regret about love lost, follows before an uplifting gospel number, “Love God,” ends the album on a high note.

Modern soul-blues at its finest, and one of the top bands on the planet. How can you go wrong? Pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.

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