R&B singer Goapele returns with much to offer

Since her appearance on the music scene in 2001, soul singer-songwriter Goapele (Gwa-pa-lay) remains one of the most underrated artists in recent R&B history. Her debut album Closer, while garnering respect from critics and lovers of music outside of the mainstream, went largely unnoticed, and, with an equally overlooked second album, Change it All, it seemed as though the singer’s budding career had ended before it truly got started.

Now, almost ten years after her debut, Goapele is back.

Described by Rolling Stone as the “spiritual love child of Sade and D’Angelo,” Goapele is a direct contrast to an industry where vocal talent doesn’t seem to be a priority. She doesn’t dance or even cradle a guitar, but she does get down to basics. Her voice, sometimes subtle sometimes gritty, doesn’t sound like anyone else’s, and it slides over her well-crafted lyrics effortlessly.

“With this third album I’ve pushed myself to sing more outside my comfort zone,” Goapele said on her website, “I’m not afraid to belt or be more sensual and intimate vocally.”

Though Goapele’s third album, Break of Dawn, actually dropped this past October, the music video for her latest single, “Tears on My Pillow,” hit YouTube and VEVO Tuesday evening, revealing a classy but sexy Goapele and an abstract portrayal of lost love. The music video features smoking suitcases, awkwardly stacked chairs, and flashing light bulbs —all coming together to match the heartbreaking moodiness of Goapele’s laid-back love song.

“Tears on My Pillow” marks the third music video from Break of Dawn and is arguably the best. The first video, “Milk and Honey,” prematurely released in 2009, presented a glammed-up, uncomfortably awkward Goapele that contrasted sharply with her chill, earthy, girl-next-door image from 2002’s “Closer.”   Nevertheless, the song “Milk and Honey” remained catchy and original enough to earn a spot on Break of Dawn two years after the video premiere.

Then came “Play,” a more upbeat track that meshed Goapele’s seemingly opposing images from “Closer” and “Milk and Honey.” In the video, Goapele rocks a series of minimalist outfits while images of a contortionist, a chess game, and a writhing snake play in the background —this girl is all about the details.

Even with apparent growth over the consecutive releases of her music videos, Goapele manages to maintain a consistency in style and attitude. Her provocative lyrics remain just as original and soul-shattering as in her earlier days, and she continues to follows a trend of heavy imagery in her music videos; instead of breaking out choreography or flashy costumes, Goapele relies on sincere facial expressions and odd representations of her lyrics, which provides food for thought as well as entertainment for viewers.

To be certain, some of her nonconformity probably results from the fact that she owns her own record label, Skyblaze.

Or, she could just be an artist with something fresh and original to say.

Goapele has tour dates planned for San Francisco this May.