gets tough for serene 'Inner Beauty Movement'


July 07, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Lina is lost in Los Angeles. The pop-R&B singer-songwriter is on her cell phone, talking about her just-released album, The Inner Beauty Movement. She's also trying to find her way to Wherehouse Music, a CD shop in the city where she's due for an in-store appearance.

"Shoot, I don't know where I am," she says. "Anyway, I'm really pleased with the new album."

It's the long awaited follow-up to her critically well-received 2001 debut, Stranger on Earth. That record was noted for its novel blend of 1930s swing samples, sultry pop and hip-hop beats. It was a vibrant sound that, unfortunately, didn't catapult Lina into the upper reaches of the charts. With a similar mix, Blu Cantrell (where is she now?) struck gold. Atlantic, Lina's label at the time, didn't push Stranger on Earth, and the 20-something Dallas native fell off the radar for a while. "I've learned about this business and the people in it," the artist says. "I'm thinking these people are so nice. But after you get signed [to a recording contract], it's something totally different. They like it when you're selling and it's all good."

But when it's not all good and your record doesn't sell, well, you're usually dropped. And Lina learned that right away. She wasn't deterred, though. During the interim, she continued to write songs for herself and others. She also formed her own label, Mood Star Recordings. The Inner Beauty Movement, a fluid, sometimes brilliant set, was released by Hidden Beach, the recording home for BeBe Winans, Kindred and Jill Scott.

"It's more organic," Lina says of her new label. "I feel like I'm in the '70s. It's very personal and grass-roots. It's very down to earth."

And so is the singer. Her speaking voice, rich with a slight Southern accent, is noticeably huskier than the voice on her CDs. She sings in an airy, almost operatic soprano. Lina's look -- pretty and chic in a bohemian soul sister kind of way -- suggests that the artist is soft and quiet. Not exactly.

"I don't think I'm gonna be happy till people say I'm the biggest bitch in the industry," she says. "What I mean by that is -- look, you've got to have a tough skin in this male-dominated business. You got to know who you are. And I learned you got to be ready for the competition. There are a lot of women out here just hating, don't want you to succeed. I'm more about a sisterhood and us coming together on the artistic front and making music to empower people. But not everybody's on that level, you know."

With The Inner Beauty Movement, Lina (who goes strictly by her first name) hopes to spread her melodic messages of self-love and peace within. She never comes off preachy; her approach is subtle and introspective. In songs like the mellow "Leaving You," the singer centers on finding yourself in the midst of broken relationships: "Today's the day / Now I can finally see my way / Yeah, I'm leaving you ... I'm leaving you for me." The springy "Run to Me" is another reflective, self-affirmation for the most part. Only this time, the singer is strong enough to comfort the old foolish lover who can't seem to get himself together.

Crooning such empowering lyrics, Lina sometimes sounds detached -- as if she's telling a story she hasn't really experienced. But she says that The Inner Beauty Movement is definitely more personal.

"These are not just different scenarios like the first album," Lina says. "This record is more of a reflection, you know. The first album was like an art project. This time, I had my producers just make the tracks, and I sang over them. But it all still worked out because the music still reflects me."

The overall sound -- uncluttered and occasionally spiked with clever jazz horn splices -- is peaceful, serene. But that's just one side of Lina.

"More of me will come out as I make more music," she says. "I'm still learning and growing as an artist and writer. There's no telling what will come out later."

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