Cleo Sol's second solo flight in as many years followed the third, fourth, and fifth albums she made with main musical partner Inflo and company as Sault. One of the trio, Untitled (Rise), was shortlisted for the 2021 Mercury Prize. That Mother is an engrossing double album -- and was in the chamber before the June 2021 arrival of Sault's fifth album, Nine -- is yet more evidence of Cleo Sol and Inflo's high levels of productivity and quality control. Like Rose in the Dark, this was written almost exclusively by the duo together and produced entirely by Inflo, with no further information provided. It's essentially another set of out-of-time soul ballads, yet it's somehow both more concentrated and expansive, eliciting comparisons to Roberta Flack and Carole King at their most intimate and inviting, and the concurrent productions of Charles Stepney, whether it's the spirited group choruses or the harp glissandi. That's not to say Mother isn't its own thing. Take how it starts, with Cleo flashing back to a childhood in an abusive home, asking for comfort, and offering some of her own with loving advice -- all over one of the album's several backdrops that takes slight if deliberate turns, gradually advances and recedes in intensity, and folds in elements liable to activate tear ducts. In the second song, Cleo sings of romantic desertion, attesting "I'm still here" with as much steadiness as the drum pattern beneath her voice. Afterward, she sings mostly of gratitude, motherly love, and reassurance, always with tenderness and resolve. While "Sunshine" is worthy of its title with its soft glow and sense of essential renewal, and "Spirit" is a grand finale, the album's emotional apex is located elsewhere. "23" is made of sweet soul that dazzles with a melodious bassline, mallets, harp, and other strings in full effect. The music facilitates Cleo's difficult talk with her mother, in which the singer makes known her pain, frustration, and sympathy without equivocation.
by Andy Kellman