Two young voices in breaking R&B music will be visiting Grinnell this weekend. Ambré Perkins is a New Orleans native who released her debut EP last spring. Chicago’s Rayvn Lenae, who is likely Gardner Lounge’s youngest act in many years (at 16 years old), will open the show with a unique blend of soul, R&B and house music. The two singers follow Gallant’s performance last weekend in what has been a very strong showing for breaking R&B music in this semester’s Gardner lineup.
Perkins released her debut EP, “Wanderlust,” last spring. Though 18 years old, the release sounds remarkably self-assured in both style and substance. The 13-song EP is an impressive collection of songs about love, individuality and Perkins’ own personal history.
From front to back, Perkins displays a willingness to make herself vulnerable on “Wanderlust.” She explores her perspective on adventures of adulthood or celebrity on high-energy tracks like “Faded” and “Bonnie & Clyde.” Meanwhile, “Ghost” touches on her upbringing in and out of various foster homes. “Pretty” addresses the oppressive role of societal beauty standards amidst her own desire to have her voice heard.
Beyond the personal nature of her lyrics, her voice is clear and in the foreground of the production on “Wanderlust.” She sounds like she cares deeply for the music she is making, a prerequisite that can easily be taken for granted when listening to an emotive R&B singer like Perkins. Yet, she expertly avoids overly expressive, Super Bowl National Anthem-type moments of self-seriousness. Her music sounds like it’s exactly what she needs to be making.
Her transparency in form and content is what makes Ambré’s music so refreshing. R&B music has taken an interesting course in recent years. Artists such as The Weeknd, Blood Orange, How To Dress Well and Kelela and many others have contributed to what’s commonly being deemed as “futuristic R&B.” Vintage synthesizers, vocal effects, ambient production and a generally cerebral nature could characterize “futuristic R&B.” Ambré Perkins, in many ways, stands outside of this cultural movement towards futuristic sounds, as she cites landmark R&B artist Brandy as an early source of inspiration and influence. Her music evokes classic sounds of early 2000s Top 40 R&B and the dog days of MTV.
Opening for Ambré Perkins is Ravyn Lenae, a 16-year-old upstart from Chicago who made waves with her 2015 release, “Moon Shoes.” The 8-song EP largely consists of collaborations between Lenae and producer Montae Jones. Sparks fly between the two in what sounds like a remarkably symbiotic musical relationship – Lenae compliments Jones’ skittering, Chicago-house-inflected beats with remarkable ease. Lenae’s precise rhythmic vocal delivery evokes the style of artists like Tinashé and Azealia Banks. This weekend’s double bill is a strong contribution to our tradition of providing young, distinct voices a platform to be heard.