Cyndi Cain's newest album, Soul Food, released Saturday, July 13 at the Marquee for the Jazz Festival, is a live off the floor, recorded straight to tape R&B wonder, and it came from a little pain, a little love and a lot of friendship.
"When I think soul food, I think community, it's not always food that I think about," says Cain. "I bring in stuff like family talking about problems, family laughing together, family dancing, all that. I'm the confidant of my friends and family, they know I'm the one that will take it to their grave, so a lot of my songs are about what they go through. They feed my soul."
Soul Food marks a shift from 2009's Essentially Cyndi's neo soul to a more nostalgic sound that made her opening slot at last year's Charles Bradley show at Jazz Fest a no-brainer. Like Candi Staton or Betty Wright, Cain's voice is evocative, whether raising goosebumps with a whisper or belting out a heart-wrenching refrain. In recent memory, successes of artists like Bradley and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings signified a return to the feel-good throwback sounds to Cain's childhood. "I'm a child of the '70s, I like music that reminds me of my parents' parties," says Cain. "Getting put out cause it's grown folks time but sneaking down and seeing them partying and singing."
The songs on Soul Food would have been a hit at her parents' parties and that's in no small part to her dedicated band—Rheo Rochon, Charity Stairs, Chantal Bee, Norm Love, Greg Hann, Kyle Varley and Matt Myer—who have played with her for the last four years. "I feel like I'm in the magic band," she says. "They get me."
Beyond classic R&B, Cain's roots are in the church, there's a gospel song on Soul Food that she calls her "hymn", and there are even elements of rap on the album. No matter the genre, it's clear Cain was born to sing. "The first song I ever sang was 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,'" she says, laughing. She had caught the bug. Giddy off her first original recorded track on the 44ºN/63ºW: The East Coast Explosion in 2000, Cain took off to Toronto, which luckily for those of us on the east coast, was short-lived. "I was just going there dreamy eyes, head in the clouds," she says. Cain returned and worked with Yvonne "Muzz" Marshall. "I used to do back up vocals for her," says Cain. "She's a mentor to me, and I miss her performing. She has a lot to do with my sound, I was always watching her while I did back ups. She mentored me in a big way."
Cain wishes her music to be the backdrop to other people's connection to home. "I envision family reunions, cook outs, playing cards, kids running everywhere." That said, it's not always lighthearted matters—being the unofficial vault for her friends and family sometimes takes a toll. "I have to let that out, it's pretty heavy stuff," says Cain. "Mostly about guys. I have some angry songs and that was me—I was pretty angry—but we've all been there. But now I have songs about my life that are happy, feel-good songs."
Giving back to the community also helps. Cain works as a student support worker, devoting every lunch hour to a choir made up of elementary students. "I got them singing and dancing, it's just so cute. We do 'Ain't no Mountain High Enough', 'Shackles' by Mary Mary," Cain says. "Anyhow I can push music in there, I do. I think it's so important."
"I just love to sing, that's all I want to do."
Cyndi Cain w/ Carson Downey Band
Saturday, July 13 at 11pm, $18/$20
The Marquee Ballroom, 2037 Gottingen