While Aaradhna might not yet be a known quantity to audiences in the U.S., she’s quickly gained a following in her native New Zealand over the course of three full-length releases in the past seven years. Her latest, Treble and Reverb, is set for a U.S. release later in the year. She stopped by to play stripped down versions of songs from the record, showing off her soulful vocals, which have drawn comparisons to the likes of Amy Winehouse.
Playlist: Aaradhna at OPB
Born Aaradhna (A-rod-nah) Jayantilal Patel in Wellington, New Zealand to an Indian father and Samoan mother, Ms. Patel is in fact a living example of musical collaboration. She credits her musical parents’ distinct cultural influences for her seemingly effortless blending of musical styles. She recalls dancing to the bhangra-style rhythms of Bollywood soundtracks, contrasting with a her mother’s Polynesian gospel sounds.
As the eldest of five siblings, ‘Radz’ as she has taken to being called, (a nickname she has taken on both to aid those who find it hard to pronounce her name, and as a term of endearment used by her friends and fans) began singing around the age of 12.
During the tour stop in Portland, the pristine, soulful doo-wop music, and cavalierly brazen songwriting found on Treble and Reverb, seemed to take a backseat to the rhythmic and infectious wail of island reggae. The 17-track record, which was released in New Zealand back in November of 2012, is the third studio release from Aaradhna, preceded by Sweet Soul Music in 2008, and the earnestly titled, I Love You, a cover/tribute album in 2006. However, her performance on Treble and Reverb, represents a turning point for Aaradhna, both musically and career-wise.
Like many R&B albums, many of the songs point to challenges with love, relationships and the broad spectrum of emotions that go along with them. But one thing that is particularly unique about Ms. Patel’s songwriting is what appears to be her bold honesty.
In that way, the album is most certainly not a rant, but a thoughtful, introspective even-handed and mature perspective on personal accountability in the tumultuous landscape of love. Still yet, there is plenty of scorn and vitriol directed at the lying and philandering man, don’t worry. But for every tit-for-tat, revenge-laden song that plays on emotions that many of us are familiar with, there are songs like Bob’s Your Uncle, that make it clear that women, too are capable of infidelity and less-than-honorable relationship choices. The song “Great Man” is an anthem that trumpets the need for women to live up to their responsibilities to the men in their lives.
The subject of relationships isn’t the only topic the album covers. If you’re not careful you might confuse the powerful and emotional ballad, Not the Same with a song about a break-up and having difficulty moving on. She performed the sparse and vocally brilliant song in the studio during her visit and explained that the song in fact had nothing whatsoever to do with any real person but the personification of a long-term antagonist of a different kind.
“When people hear it, they do tend to think it’s about a relationship, but really I’m talking about depression—’Mr. Heartbreaker’ is depression,” she clarified.
Aaradhna’s compositions have been dressed-up more than suitably for the task with tracks produced by New Zealand beat-maker Peter Wadams, a.k.a, P-Money. The sounds faithfully pay homage to 1950’s R&B but with a modern sharpness and fidelity that anchors them solidly in the present. The sound is a slightly less bombastic take on the genre favored by producer and DJ Mark Ronson who was responsible for many of the signature throwback tracks found on the albums of Lilly Allen, Macy Gray and the late, Amy Winehouse.
Vocally, Aaradhna infuses the tracks with energy drawn from classic souls singers like Otis Redding and Sam Cook as inspiration, as they have inspired so many others. Patel has taken to calling her sound “retro/metro,” and encapsulates not only the music but also a personal vintage style that she has adopted to match. But if you listen closely to Patel’s vocals and the energy you cannot help but draw a close connection to Winehouse.
Though it is uncertain what level of success Ms. Patel’s emotionally brazen Treble and Reverb will ultimately achieve, one thing that is certain is that she has done what she has set out to accomplish. Her feelings about the whole thing seem to be summized pretty well in her song “Sit With a Slouch,” a song that points a finger at obstacles human, or otherwise, that she has struggled against.
“I never thought it would be that hard, doing what I really love. All my life all I wanted to do was this, or nothing at all—this is my life.”