Required listening: Emma Bunton’s ‘Free Me’


Music with a 60s retro theme has had an enduring presence in music, particularly artists from the UK.  Swing Out Sister certainly pops up on that list, although they were ahead of the game; the Austin Powers movies (particularly the first two) certainly put an emphasis on the era. The late Amy Winehouse, Adele, and most recently John Newman (who will be featured here soon) have utilized the sound and feel of the era in some of their work. But one artist who did it particularly well never really had her solo material noticed here in the U.S.

Most people know Emma Bunton as “Baby Spice” thanks to the phenomenal success of the Spice Girls in the late 90s. But then U.S. listeners basically heard nothing else from her, even though she recorded a few well-regarded solo albums.  For me, the strongest of them is “Free Me,” lush with horns, strings and production stylings of the 60s (most heavily focusing on the Motown era, which served as her inspiration for the album, but blending in other sounds throughout the album) that really bring everything to life. The album may now be a decade old, but it holds up quite well.

The title track exemplifies the approach and how well it works with Bunton’s voice and singing style; the productions don’t overwhelm her vocals, and allow her to shine through, while providing a musical backdrop that is lush and beautiful.

For me, the most uptempo tunes on the album are also the most fun, and I think “Maybe” fits the bill there quite well.

“Crickets Sing for Anamaria” also falls into the uptempo category, a cover of a Marcos Valle track that started as an instrumental but then earned lyrics by the artist.

Additional listening

The title track was reworked into a dance anthem that is equally enjoyable, although in its own ways, of course.

Bunton’s not the only ex-Spice Girl to keep her career moving; Melanie C (“Sporty Spice”) has kept things going, and continued to produce some pretty good music in her own right. The pair also recorded a duo for Mel C’s 2012 album, “Stages,” called “I Knew Him So Well,” above.

Here’s the Marcos Valle track “Os Grilos (The Crickets Sing for Anamaria).”  The song was featured in “Breaking Bad,” bringing attention to the song and its various permutations.

Here’s Valle’s version with lyrics.

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