Cleo Sol Steps Out From Sault With Two Serene R&B Outings, ‘Heaven’ and ‘Gold’: Albums Review

Cleo Sol is a British R&B singer who first made her mark as a teenager nearly 15 years ago but has risen to prominence as the most prominent vocalist in Sault, the prolific and deliberately anonymous alt-soul collective masterminded by musician-producer Inflo that has released a mind-boggling 11 albums in just four years. Sol has taken that ethic to heart, dropping two full albums this month within two weeks of each other: “Heaven” and “Gold,” the latter of which dropped last night.

While these are solo albums, she worked closely with Inflo — he co-wrote and produced both — so the sound and feel are, not surprisingly, often similar to Sault’s, but stay in the smooth Massive Attack/ Sade lane that marks the group’s most R&B-leaning material. There’s a lot of Erykah Badu and a lot of early ‘70s Stevie Wonder in her singing and grooves, and while it generally moves in a in an unhurried, low-key pace, Sol shows she can open up and (almost) belt when she’s so inclined: “Lost Angel,” one of the strongest songs in the batch, finds her upping the intensity while a gospel chorus soars behind her.

The songs’ themes are mostly about love, self-belief and a gently Christian-inflected spirituality, and the lyrics aren’t always as inspired as the music, but her phrasing is as soft-focused as the sound, so they’re not obtrusive. It’s not music for rocking a party, but perfect for lighting candles and winding down after one.

Sault fans have been spoiled (if not overwhelmed) by the bounty of material coming from the group’s camp in recent months — in addition to the six albums the group released last year, Inflo also produced all of Little Simz’s “No Wonder” album — and suddenly, here’s another windfall.

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