On a first listen, Jalen Ngonda gives one the impression that this an artist both warmly familiar, yet somehow intriguingly enigmatic. Since arriving in Liverpool from his Washington homeland, the singer-songwriter has been a regular favourite with audiences among the dimly lit bars and clubs of the city’s underground music scenes. If there’s one reason for which his latest track, ‘You deserve what you got’ is undoubtedly a success, then it’s the raw prowess of his live performances that has somehow translated into a studio recording.
As with the majority of the songwriters material, ‘You deserve what you got’ is instantly notable in its homage to the old Soul/Motown legends that clearly have a strong influence over the singer. However, Jalen doesn’t allow these explicit musical influences to overbear his own identity as a songwriter. Unhindered by unnecessary instrumentation, the central focus of the track remains on Jalen’s greatest assets- both his voice and his song-writing ability, and this stripped-back approach to the arrangement instantly seduces us as listeners. Like his live shows, throughout the track there is a sense that the intimacy between audience and artist has no bounds, and because of this we are able to confide in his music, just as he confides in us as receptors of his work. This relationship between listener and artist is the true beauty of Jalen’s music. From the onset the truthful and unrestrained honesty of the track not only grabs our attention, but as if by some unknown force we are persistently drawn closer to the music as the song progresses.
The ease with which song-writing comes to Jalen is indisputable. And ‘You deserve what you got’ confirms his inherent nature as a talented songwriter, comfortable with his artistic aims and intentions. The song is at once captivating and poignant, and with the band supplying the perfect backdrop, whilst the voice acts as the driving force, the urge to sympathize with the songs core sentiment is irresistible.
Although Jalen may have forged his musical roots from across the Atlantic, Liverpool and the States has a deep history for being musical relatives, and at times listening to Jalen can feel like a sweet reminder of this. Certainly, the classic Soul/Motown vibe of his song-writing gives one cause for a degree of nostalgia, yet beyond this is a feeling that Jalen is very much an artist with relevance in the 21st Century, and when it comes to this songwriters future, well, he’ll deserve what he gets.