Heart and soul

It’s tough not to cast Lisa against her former bandmates in m-flo in an imagined rivalry.

If Taku was the brains of m-flo and Verbal the guts, Lisa was most certainly the heart. And the chemistry those three musicians produced is the exception, not the rule.

At the same time, it’s also clear Lisa, while possessing one of the loveliest voices around, isn’t a writer on the level of her former cohorts.

Her debut album, 2003’s Juicy Music, sported a fine performance, but the material itself didn’t have the fire of her former group.

Lisa’s second album, Gratitude, finds her branching out more.

One thing is apparent — Lisa gave m-flo a lot of soul. Musical soul, that is.

“Get Real” finds the singer backed by an easy groove similar to Utada Hikaru’s early work. “My Dearest” would have sounded like straight-ahead funk if played on live instruments, while the stuttering beats of “So Beautiful” recall m-flo’s “Hands”.

Lisa doesn’t go out on the same kind of limb as m-flo does on Astromantic, but she does open herself up to a broader sonic pallette.

The swaggering beat of “Switch” shows off Lisa’s gritty side, while the stripped-down rock guitars on “Eien” finds her using an avenue other than balladry to get emotional.

“Peace in Love” is a saccharine attempt at reggae that would have sounded phenomenal with juice from expert reggae players. (Paging Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.)

And “Gracias a Dios” is admirable for the simple fact Lisa gives nods to her part-Latina heritage. She sounds good on this track.

A second disc consisting mostly of covers accompanies the album, but let’s just not go there. (Thank you.)

Gratitude is much stronger outing for Lisa. It’s diverse but focused, performed with strength and grace. On its own, it’s a decent album.

Still, it’s tough not to compare her work with her legacy, and while Lisa can stand on her own as a performer, there’s a sense she can still do much more, while maintaining her autonomy.

No, she shouldn’t get back with m-flo. But it would be nice if she could recapture the magic she shared with them.