You have to have been crouching under a rock to not notice pop music’s recent preoccupation with doom, gloom, and naysaying. Whether it’s Pink’s “Dear Mr. President” or Linkin Park’s gloomy Minutes to Midnight, popular music has found itself mired in a world of negativity. Even bands like Matchbox Twenty, not typically known for substantial fare, have tossed their hats into the ring with a less than sunny look at the world. Yet, thankfully, some artists are still brimming with hope. Natasha Bedingfield is one such artist and her aptly titled Pocketful of Sunshine is just what the doctor ordered.
Bedingfield is best known to U.S. audiences for her hit single, “Unwritten,” but she’s been entrancing U.K. audiences with her soulful vocals and upbeat approach for years. Beginning her career as part of DNA Algorithm with siblings Daniel and Nikola, the artist then lent her talents to the Hillsong London worship team. But greater fame beckoned and, as some of her demos fell into the right hands, her career launched with the aforementioned single.
Pocketful of Sunshine finds Natasha taking on a slightly different musical direction than her previous efforts, drawing from a more R&B flavored approach that recalls Bedingfield’s U.K. contemporary, Joss Stone. With somewhat more affected vocals and a continued smooth groove that suits her nicely, Bedingfield weaves a tapestry of encouraging lyricism that uplifts and gets toes tapping.
With a killer groove destined to make it a summertime favorite, the title track and first single sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s one of those songs that cries out for a convertible with the top down and a long drive to the beach. “Piece of Your Heart” is a similar slice of sugar, offering up Bedingfield’s soaring vocals with an honest lyric as the artist pleads for her lover to simply be there for her in times of trial and tribulation. In fact, that longing seems to bear occupy a sizeable share of the record’s space, such as on “Soulmate” (“Who doesn’t long for someone to hold/Who knows how to love you without being told”).
Relationships continue to carry the burden with tracks like “Put Your Arms Around Me,” which espouses the virtue of love through thick and thin with a day-glo chorus, and “Say It Again,” a duet with Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. That duet holds strong with it’s open declaration of love, but Bedingfield’s collaboration with flavor-of-the-moment Sean Kingston (“Beautiful Girls”) does not. While sonically a pleasant listen—a bit of an old school jam married with the new—the lyricism of “Love Like This” are barely a notch above painful:
I sit here in this chair and I wish
for you not to leave me now
My friends they always told me
not to make you my wifey
man they was putting you down
And now they see we rollin,
me and you, we strollin,
they don’t wanna come around
Despite these few missteps, Bedingfield rights the ship easily. “Backyard” is a surprising track in that it doesn’t possess a readily accessible hook but is buoyed by honest subject matter and musical experimentation. Its longing for a simpler time, those of playing with friends in the backyard with no pretense, is one we can all identify with. But perhaps this album is summed up not so much by the title track but by “Happy,” a song that is good for the soul with it’s energizing groove and it’s lyric that challenges us to look around and count our blessings. It’s a message we’re all best to heed, one that will make life a whole lot more enjoyable.
Andrew Greenhalgh is the founding editor of Soul-Audio.
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