Album review: ‘In My Feelings’ by MOTHER HOOD

The track “The Hopes and Fears” — on In My Feelings, the inaugural solo effort from MOTHER HOOD — borrows its key phase from the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The classic lines, “Yet in thy dark streets shineth / the everlasting light / the hopes and fears of all the years / are met in thee tonight.” Here, vocalist, songwriter and producer Cliff Worsham, aka MOTHER HOOD, responds, “In myself I see the light.” Against the cool shimmer of beats and keys, produced by Worsham’s RBTS WIN partner Javi Bolea, aka Boy in Sleep, the message is visionary — taking a personal responsibility for spiritual healing (and also, one could hypothesize, a singular joy in that inner growth).

Over and over that idea spirals: Seeking to escape physical or mental anguish in various forms of oblivion only to surface into the understanding that there’s no way out but through. In My Feelings is not just a soundtrack to that journey but a guiding light on its darkest parts.

The combination of personal songwriting, low-key melodies and gentle beats offers the listener a place to rest — to let the sounds and ideas wash over or to go deeper. This isn’t easy listening, but there is ease. There’s breath, there are bathwater-warm eddies, there are sonic dreamscapes. “Everybody want to see you shine / don’t nobody want to see you fall,” Worsham sings on the Joe Grisly-produced track “Monumental.”

There, the drum is a crisp snare spelled by the snap of a high hat. The piano is loose, moody — the kind of a melody one might finesse from a rainy day in the shoulder season. There’s emotional heft here, and the urgency adds texture to Worsham’s vocal. In his years with RBTS WIN he’s grown into the nuances of his voice and learned where to push, where to hold back. On his solo album, Worsham takes risks that feel not so much risky as realized.

The eight-song collection opens with the Lavier-produced title track. A handful of loungey notes offers an understated introduction, but that downtempo vibe is all style — muted light, cymbal rolls, room for Worsham’s lyric to lift off.

Though six different producers (including Worsham) were tapped for the creation of In My Feelings, there’s a sonic throughline. Hints of ’90s neo-soul and jazz-infused hip-hop, film scores, deep house, some interstellar molecular trace that would feel at home in a planetarium laser-light show. The OGYUNGSEER-produced “youarelostonthepath” brings in a pulsing dance beat — a kind of life-affirming counterbalance to Worsham’s refrain, “The pain remains when the numb is gone.”

But, even here, that blood-surging throb is a suggestion, not a demand. As listeners, we can arrive as we are, blue and bruised, not yet ready to take a next step. “Do nightmares plague your thinking? Do you stumble through your sleep?” Worsham asks on “Is It Just Me?” produced by geethanksmister. “Is it you, too, or is it just me?”

The record wraps with a pair of songs produced by MOTHER HOOD: “Can’t put all these feelings down” and “Every Little Bit of Me.” The first features rapper Musashi Xero, whose assertive delivery is the sole departure from In My Feelings’ benevolent touch. But the guest appearance is in keeping with Worsham’s collaborations with hip-hop artists and an aesthetic that informs his work. He smartly bookends the Musashi Xero verses with his own sweeping vocal, returning the listener to the sonic world of the album.

The final song feels like the afterword to a novel, the author checking back in, tying up loose ends. It ends abruptly — as is also Worsham’s style — but there’s something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more. Those final moments, infused with turntable crackle and a stuttering melody, are a balm. Another track or two or five would be welcome; hopefully, a next MOTHER HOOD solo album is soon to follow.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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