Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey… the list of legendary female voices within the overarching genres of classic soul and jazz seemingly goes on and on. Further encompassing the blues within this elongated, awkwardly-misshapen Venn Diagram of genres just adds more icons to the list, but as long as the list goes on and on, none of them tend to have popular careers that date beyond the 1970s, much less making it beyond the fifty-year gap to the modern music standards of the twenty-first century. Most feel fine writing the concept of powerful, female-based blues and soul off as a bygone genre from a bygone era but the fact of the matter is that these women are unforgettable and more than deserve a place in modern music as much as any other pop artist — Soulful Femme is well aware of this, and the band (fronted by two incredibly talented women in blues) is determined to cement their place in musical history among the previously mentioned legends.
Pittsburgh-based blues duo Soulful Femme is officially arriving on the scene with their debut LP It Is Well With My Soul, a twelve-track tribute to the past voices of blues and soul as well as a statement of intent on their much-deserved place within and against the thralls of modern, popular music. The album opens with a soulful, beautiful introduction track with “It Is Well With My Soul (Intro)” before it pivots into the funky, upbeat “Set You Free.” The brass section punctuates the punchy chemistry shared between the performers and even offers up a rare yet wholly successful saxophone solo. The duo has more than solidified their place as live performers, with lead singer Stevee Wellons having been in the music industry for over twenty-five years and guitarist Cheryl Rinovato having a double-major education out of Berklee College of Music. Their online presence is pretty minimal, in true blues fashion, but the band’s Facebook page gives the impression that they’ve been successfully putting on a variety of shows for years. Given the free time in the past year with things slowing to a halt due to a global disaster, it might have made the most sense to use the freshly open schedule to finally lay down an album.
The fact that It Is Well With My Soul is only a debut album is impressive both in regards to its conception as well as its composition; here’s a band that has been together for years, has years of experience apart, and is only just now releasing an album together. It feels like this project should have come a year into the formation of Soulful Femme at most, but the years of buildup do feel like a planned thing as soon as listeners are made privy to the content that is stored within It Is Well With My Soul. Arriving for listeners with an incredibly strong and confident debut album, Soulful Femme is off to an amazing start in regards to their career with a wide array of studio albums surely still to come. A song that feels timeless in its existence and composition shows its face in bombastic “Right This Wrong,” which feels like an unearthed 90’s funk/soul track created as a bit of counter-programming against the 90’s pop wave. The historic education is certainly on the side of Wellons and Rinovato, and this album is a perfect marriage of the two performers and their time spent both together and apart. The proof is in the pudding and I’m certain that listeners will agree that It Is Well With My Soul is an outstanding piece of work.