Sade Purrs as Soul Seduction Brings Hip Suits, Sexy Sax to U.S.

Sade’s music has soundtracked millions of romances. She’s back in the U.S. for a tour that is likely to entice many more lovers.

Sade starts her North America concerts in Baltimore today after European dates that demonstrated her music’s allure. Based on these shows, expect the seduction to start with the sleek, prowling “Soldier of Love.” The title track of the 2010 album has the graceful menace of a panther. It’s followed by live versions of tracks from the greatest-hits CD set “The Ultimate Collection,” released this year.

In a three-decade career, Sade -- the name refers to the group as well as the singer, Helen Folasade Adu, 52 -- has sold more than 50 million records, about half of them in the U.S.

In the band’s U.K. home, its smooth soul is often dismissed as music for wine bars. It’s a dig at the supposed glamorous sophistication of Sade’s image in the 1980s, the yuppie era in which both qualities were lacking. Sade’s extensive use of the saxophone didn’t help: Its sound has spent most of the years since banished in pop purgatory. Sade went 18 years between London shows.

“I think we are good enough for you now,” Adu purred at the O2 Arena in London last month.

In “Your Love Is King,” the song that started Sade’s career in 1984, Stuart Matthewman’s sax makes a strong case for the instrument’s immediate redemption.

Heartfelt Zest

U.S. audiences can expect the funk of “The Sweetest Taboo” to come spiced with zest. “Pearls” is delivered with simplicity, its lyrics about women in Somalia heartfelt.

“Jezebel” starts with just an acoustic guitar and Adu confiding the spellbinding story while sitting on the stage’s edge. Her voice grows in intensity as the rest of the band gradually joins.

The staging is discreet and classy, reliant on careful lighting and video. “Nothing Can Come Between Us” uses shots of the band larking about on an early tour. “Kiss Of Life” is accompanied by footage of Adu rolling in a springtime orchard.

The band starts in tailored black, changing into sharply cut suits for the slick sound of “Smooth Operator.” Ade starts in ponytail, chic shirt and business waistcoat, then lets her hair free over a full-length white dress, dancing barefoot as much as possible.

The nine musicians of Sade’s live band play with precision, so that the quiet storms and sparky bedroom grooves easily fill the largest venues. Best of all is her voice, by turns sultry and strident, intimate and powerful.

Rating: ****.

Information: http://www.sade.com, http://www.sadetour.com.

Sade is joined by John Legend for most U.S. and Canada shows. Her tour of about 50 concerts includes the Nassau Coliseum on June 21.

What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Robert Heller in London at roberthelleruk@yahoo.co.uk

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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