“Living in truth” is a perfectly natural concept. It’s hard, though, to put it into practice in a multi-tasking world subject to constant change and pressure from numerous sources. Faced with such challenges, we can find either solace or relief in the music that surrounds us.
Skilled singer and songwriter Stacye Branche is choosing the more optimistic path -- or “Evolution” -- to find that frequently elusive zone of self-empowerment and creative prosperity. In fact, with the release of her self-penned and -produced fourth album, The Evolution to Living in Truth, she’s taking quite a big step. “I wanted to make a record that people would remember me by when I’m no longer here,” she remarks candidly. “I wanted it to be a statement of me, and not time stamped.” After working with producer Lloyd Tolbert on her first two independent CD’s, she decided to take on production responsibilities due to creative differences and what she felt was too much focus on a “commercial” sound on her last set (2004’s For the Man I Love). “I had an ‘Ah!’ moment. Initially, I didn’t even care if this new album was released, as long as I could get it done and have it to listen to.”
An unexpected turn in Stacye’s path occurred last year -- one that made her question if she actually could release The Evolution to Living in Truth. “I was diagnosed with myeloma, a rare cancer. I really didn’t know if I’d have the chance to put out an album again. That made me realize that the most important thing is for people to start living.” Having undergone a number of surgeries since her diagnosis, Stacye reveals that she’s learned to adapt her professional pace to allow time for personal reflection and to surround herself with positive energy. “All of the songs on the album are very personal. Depending on the day, one might affect me more than another.” Some were thought-out and penned over plentiful time periods, while others were created on the spur of the moment. “I wrote ‘Love Is All You Need’ in the car on the way to the studio, Private Island Trax. The amazing thing is, the day after we finished recording the album, they gave notice that it was closing!”
Since her first release on her own Soulfare label, 2001’s I Believe, Stacye has put into practice the art of networking and building a fan base from the fruits of that labor. “The most amazing moment in my life was right before releasing that album. I started getting e-mails from fans who remembered my first album, Flash, which had been released over 10 years prior.” She started getting the word out on I Believe by sending the link to her website to the 300 contacts in her e-mail address book. Nowadays, the fan base has skyrocketed to a not-so-shabby 45,000-plus, with Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking venues fueling the fire. Initially someone who was “a little fearful of digital downloading,” Stacye notes that now, she’s “thankful to I-Tunes for keeping music alive. Otherwise, there probably wouldn’t be a music industry these days. I was a loyal CD buyer for years; but now, I’ll find a track from an artist’s album that isn’t popular, that I like better than the single - and I’ll buy that.”
True, the prevalence of I-Tunes is hard to deny, but Stacye is not one to put all of her eggs into one basket. Selling her albums on her own website, as well as Amazon and CD Baby, she alludes to the “trust factor” of certain Internet music stores as an appealing trait. “When I put my product on a site, I will gauge it by ordering a couple of copies myself. I did so from one site, and they told me they hadn’t sold any! But with CD Baby, they make enough money from the sales that you can know it’s real. There aren’t any accounting issues.”
Music is truly the heart of The Evolution to Living in Truth -- not image, not glamour, not flashy dance moves or videos. Utilizing a fully live rhythm section and accompanying musicians, the album’s focus is on an organic sound not subject to radio or Internet trends. “I’m not into bashing today’s music, but I have found that some songs stand the test of time. Others you like two or three times, then you realize you’re over it!” Driven by a desire to bring to life the authentic essence of classics by her many influences -- including Minnie Riperton, Phyllis Hyman, and Jean Carne -- Stacye recruited a who’s-who of players. The chief line-up is comprised of percussionist Tim “Timbali” Cornwell, who’s played on tours with Janet Jackson and Maxwell; drummer Cory Mason, who’s recorded with Anthony Hamilton; bassist Alex Al, known for his session work with Herbie Hancock, Jeff Lorber, and Dru Hill; guitarist Rob Bacon, a sound pioneer with DJ Quik and Raphael Saadiq; and pianist Brandon Coleman, fresh from recently recording with Ndugu Chancler.
Atop the instrumental soulfulness, Stacye’s voice glides with sophisticated sultriness on the sassy, downtempo opener “Let the Music Play”; while her delivery drips with seduction on the tropical-tinged “With You.” One of the set’s most surprising moments comes in the form of “Hard to Say Goobye,” which has all the makings of a classic, soulful pop ballad. “The vamp has a Carole King feel,” she reflects. “I didn’t expect that one to grab people a lot, but it’s been getting a lot of response.” On a similar note, the melancholy “When Did You Know?” touches a chord with its questions: “You played the game of love so sweetly/No one could tell me love wasn’t meant to be...When did you know that it wasn’t me/When did you know that we weren’t meant to be?”
At the center of Stacye’s journey right now, however, is the titletrack, “Living in Truth,” whose honest and direct message is conveyed with pleasing effect through mellow arrangements and supple interpretation. “Runnin’ around tryin’ to figure out who we are/Do you know the answer’s always been in our hearts?” she sings. Looking forward to resuming live performance shortly, Stacye remarks that she has a newfound appreciation for life’s possibilities. “I’m in stage two of the cancer right now. I can be fine for the rest of my life if I do the right things and take care of myself.” Given her onward outlook, she’s sure to forge ahead in her determination to maximize her gifts and find the inner balance so important on her quest. “I know a lot of people who have great ideas, but are afraid to break out of that box. But you can! I’m not a dweller. I’m a very upbeat, positive person. The glass is half full.”
The refrain of “Living in Truth” aptly sums up her perspective on the past, present, and future. “How can you be happy if you live in fear/Listen to your heart and the truth you’ll hear/Embrace who you are and all you choose to be/In your truth is all you’ll ever need to be.”
Find out more about Stacye at Stacye Branche.com
About the Writer
Justin Kantor is a freelance music journalist with published works in Wax Poetics and the All-Music Guide. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Business and Management program, he regularly writes liner notes for reissue labels.