unlimited promise in a broad soul context

Wild Seed-Wild Flower (Columbia)
Dionne Farris

By Allen Howie

From her performance on Arrested Development's Grammy-winning "Tennessee," singer Dionne Farris has made the leap to solo artist with a remarkable record. Wild Seed – Wild Flower is one of those rare albums that defies classification, except perhaps, in the broadest sense, as soul music.

Just listen to the jazz phrasing of the philosophical "Reality," which segues into the dark rumble of "Stop to Think," an anti-drug song co-written with Lenny Kravitz. And how refreshing it is to hear an R&B ballad about sensuality that manages to avoid both cliche and a parental advisory sticker. Instead, "Passion" relies on Farris' cool, clear vocal and the slow surge of the rhythm Lrack, spiked by electric riffing at the chorus.

Throughout the album, Farris mixes thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics with her assured singing and a dazzling diversity of styles. Songs like "Passion" and "Food for Thought" reveal the singer's search for some deeper understanding while exploring musical styles that reflect that inquisitive spirit.

From the soulful pop swing of "Now or Later" to the deadly "Don't Ever Touch Me Again," in which a victim of abuse reaches the end of her rope, Farris creates a different mood with each song. Where this might splinter another album into an incohesive mess, Farris' voice is the thread that binds it all together into a seamless whole.

Add in a sparse and pretty cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird," the mesmerizing, a capella "Human" and a hilarious between-numbers "audition" by actor David Alan Grier and you have an accomplished debut from a singer whose promise appears unlimited.