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R&B singers Nicole Wray and Terri Walker both had promising starts to their careers over 10 years ago, but neither became a household name. Now, they've banded together under the name Lady. Our reviewer Oliver Wang suggests that together they have a second chance to make a first impression.


OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: Nicole Wray came up on the Virginia coast under the wing of mentor Missy Elliot. London's Terri Walker was classically trained, yet released her debut on a Def Jam subsidiary.


TERRI WALKER: (Singing) I was awakened of an angel in my bed. He said...

WANG: Both enjoyed early critical success, but by decade's end, struggled to find a wide audience. Instead, they found each other.


LADY: (Singing) Oh, my man makes me mad sometimes. I just can't walk away.

WANG: Longtime fans of Wray or Walker may not instantly recognize them here. They've traded in slick, hip-hop influenced R&B styles for a decidedly throwback feel. Working with the house band from New York's Truth & Soul Records, Lady nails that magic formula of sweet vocal stylings anchored by the heavy thump and growl of a crack rhythm section.

It's an update on the classic sound of early '70s Memphis soul: part Sunday-morning glory, part Saturday-night slow grind.


LADY: (Singing) Time's not on my side. Where are you, boy? Just to ease my mind (unintelligible) when you're back here with me. I know for certain that I have your heart. I never worry when we are apart.

WANG: Lady's break from the past lies in the duo's tag-team vocals. Walker's more robust and throaty power contrasts with the subtle, raspy edge of Wray's voice. Together, they create a beguiling blend of overlapping harmonies and attitudes.


LADY: (Singing) If you think that I'm your mama, now you've just had this baby, baby, baby, crazy, crazy, crazy. Better go find your job. You better stop acting lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy.

WANG: We've become so conditioned to hearing solitary pop and soul divas that the idea of two women sharing a mic feels more surprising than it probably should. Still, the partnership between Nicole Wray and Terri Walker provides a real joy, the way their voices weave under and atop one another. On their own, each singer enjoyed a promising career. But as a team, the ladies of Lady have added up to something singular.


LADY: (Singing) Take my hat off to my mother, such a sweet lady.

CORNISH: Oliver Wang reviewed the debut album from Lady. Oliver is associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach. He writes the audio blog "Soul Sides."

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