Richard Branson’s V2 label has launched with an eclectic and sprawling roster — a plan not dissimilar from his beginnings at Virgin — and in the midst of his Mideast pop artists and the High Llamas, he hits paydirt with former Brand New Heavies vocalist N’Dea Davenport.
Beyond her riveting stage presence, Davenport has an elastic voice that seems to go every which way over grooves pulled from ’70s soul and lanky hip-hop. Songs that made it into the set list from her days in the early ’90s with the soul/acid jazz progenitors, the Heavies, possessed a firmer coherence to a disco-funk ethic than her newer songs. She stretches more in the material from her debut disc, floating toward a easy-going version of danceable soul music enhanced by jazz chordings on guitar and keyboards — Sade with street smarts, if you will.
Vocally, Davenport touched on blues and gospel as well at the soldout yet underpublicized concert, closing with a funky update of Neil Young’s “Old Man” that shows, if nothing else, her versatility. At times the songs, most of them of the basic love variety, stretched on too long as she improvised, presumably, with choruses and key phrases; her frenzied stage movements, however, kept all eyes focused on her. A little tightening of the act, paired with her sharp disc, should prove a winner for V2.