Leela James is performing at Tempo tonight, August 17. Here’s why you need to stop everything and buy that ticket right now. Leela sings old-school soul without sounding... old. Her new album, Loving You More... In the Spirit of Etta James, doesn’t just cover standards (and some rare cuts) by her hero — it completely reworks the arrangements, stripping them down to bare piano chords or, on the standout “Damn Your Eyes,” amping them up to “Erotic City”-level highs.
It’s a good move for Leela, who, like Etta, embellishes her effortless alto with a grittiness that soothes even as it packs a kick. James is one of the few modern R&B singers who can legitimately hold a tune next to legends like Aretha Franklin or Gladys Knight. Her four critically acclaimed albums showcase her soulful, bluesy, jazzy, even folk-tinged sound.
James has the kind of voice that makes you wanna pin up your hair, put on some pumps and break up with your man, just to make up with him again. And while Leela is flawless in concert, a small venue like Tempo is the perfect setting for her honey-whiskey growl. Backed by Tempo’s live house band, it should transform the spot into the jookjoint of dreams. Since it is Tempo, guys will want to check the website for their stringent and curiously specific dress code (no striped polos), so your night isn’t cut short before it begins. RIYL Angie Stone, Anthony Hamilton, newer Raphael Saadiq, Jill Scott and Jasmine Sullivan.
$15. Aug. 17, 9 p.m. Tempo, 4809 Wilkinson Blvd. 704-391-8909.