You could say that globetrotting is in Rhian Benson’s blood. She was raised in Ghana, England, and India, but it still comes as somewhat of a surprise that her sophomore album, Hands Clean, ventures toward the Scandinavian soul aesthetic. Her debut album, Gold Coast, was produced by neo-soul stalwarts James Poyser and Bob Power and had more of a jazzy bend to it. This new album, produced by Danish duo Daniel Fridell and Jonas Rendbo, relies on icy synth blips, electro-funk, and a little wanderlust to convey its message, yet manages to retain its warmth through Rhian’s smoldering delivery and deep lyricism.
The first half of the album contains quite a few tracks that standout: album opener “Feels Like Home,” “Be (f/Jonas),” and “1” all set high standards for what today’s adult urban contemporary should sound like. Songs like “L’Amour Fou” and “You Always Know” serve up sophisticated funk that convey sexiness in a mature, tasteful manner.
Towards the second half, she delves into some international sonic textures: “Rewind” is a bouncy Brazilian bossa nova number, while “Wide Open Spaces” is a generic Jamaican roots cut that’s heavy on optimism, serving as her declaration of freedom and announcing that “where I land, that is my territory.”
And then, for the finale, she TRIED it y’all…she interpolates Terrence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name.” Now y’all know that is a classic, and if you gon’ touch it, you better caress that thang and make stanky love to it. Rhian’s version, which bears the same title, is just a tease as she reluctantly strokes it with a tad too much tenderness. Yes, she’s a class act, but I wish she had gotten just a little bit dirty on it. Otherwise, it’s a lovely attempt at engaging nostalgia.
Hands Clean reminds me of that time of year when the gloom of winter melts away and spring rears its head and before you know it, summer’s got you sweaty and pregnant with possibilities. You can tell that Rhian’s heart is full to the brim with longing and vulnerability, but ultimately, she gains the strength to move forward and renew herself as she continues on her unwavering quest for purity and honesty.
Hands Clean is available for purchase on iTunes.