No follower of fashion, Lisa Stansfield’s soulful style is all her own
While younger female pop vocalists working with familiar superstar hitmaking producers and quasi-trap beats have garnered most of the attention this year, Lisa Stansfield, who plays the Wilbur Theatre Thursday in the midst of her first American tour in two decades, quietly released her thrilling, soulful eighth record, reminding listeners that great pop can still reach you on an emotional level while making you dance.
Stansfield and her longtime musical collaborator and husband, Ian Devaney, are smart enough not to make the mistake of many peers from her era by trying to adapt her sound to musical trends or turning the vocalist into something she’s not. Instead, they’ve made a Lisa Stansfield record — sultry, personal, and musically diverse — while updating her organic sound with a sense of purpose and urgency. A wonderfully modulated mix of funky grooves and luxurious ballads, “Deeper” captures the soul/pop singer — who reigned supreme during the late 1980s and 1990s with her hits “All Around the World,” “This Is the Right Time,” and “The Real Thing” — in peak form.
“I never go into the studio to make a record with a master plan and that’s what happened here, but I knew what I wanted. I think this represents where I’m at now,” the spirited Stansfield says via phone from her studio in Manchester, England.
“Of course, I know what’s happening in music, and there’s a more familiar dance music and the retro-soul going on, but Ian and I have a way of working together and we want an organic sound — that’s important. My music has developed its own personality, and I wanted it to be contemporary and make sure I retain my identity and remain true to what I do.”
What Stansfield does best is light up hooky dance tracks and find the emotional truth of her ballads, which simmer and sway (think “I’m Leavin’ ” “All Woman,” or the new “Hole in My Heart”), with her seemingly effortless, expressive vocals.
The singer/songwriter realizes today’s audiences familiar with SZA and Ariana Grande most likely have no idea who she is and may never hear “Deeper,” but she’s not trying to reach that demographic. “I don’t think it’s practical to believe this music is going to find a wide younger audience, so it’s not like I’m going to have hits again, especially in America. In Europe, I do see a lot of women who were fans years ago bring their daughters and sons to shows and that’s how my music gets passed down, and I love that.
“But it’s not like I’m touring America with the idea of reintroducing my music.”
She thinks for a moment and continues, “But it’s funny, I notice a lot of younger people do know the songs — they often just don’t know who sang them. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I love that song.’ They’re just not sure it’s from me.”
Stansfield was a consistent hitmaker throughout the 1990s, but she’s put out only four records in the new millennium and fell off the pop radar. It didn’t help that two of those records, 2004’s “The Moment,” which was produced by Trevor Horn, and 2014’s “Seven” were barely distributed in America. She also took some time in the aughts to pursue acting, appearing in films and British television shows.
“I took small roles I liked, but I was always writing music. That was never the problem,” Stansfield says. “People thought I disappeared, but I never went away. Music has always been a priority.”
With “Deeper,” Stansfield does re-establish herself as a soul singer supreme — one of the artists who paved the way for today’s hot Brit soul artists like Jorja Smith, Nao, and Ella Mai. She’s always had the ability to tap into the heart of a song with her warm, liquid vocals and subtle phrasing.
“I think I popped out of the womb singing Diana Ross,” she says with a laugh. “I grew up with the music of Diana Ross, Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye, and so many other great artists. Singers like Gladys Knight are mostly responsible for how I learned to sing.”
Stansfield performed a fizzy, flirty duet of “All Around the World” with one of her biggest influences, Barry White, in 1992 and it has become a surprise viral sensation. “We just recorded it for a television show one day. It wasn’t planned as a recording. But we were cheeky on it, weren’t we?” she says slyly. “I’d always admired him, and we became good friends afterward, so I’m happy about that.”
As she heads out on tour, Stansfield is making music as vital and resonant as her best early-career albums like “Affection,” “Real Love,” and “Lisa Stansfield.”
“I’ve never wanted to make the same music over and over, and I’ve always tried to make as honest and true music as I can. I can’t let anything go that I’m not proud of, and I think you hear that in the records,” she says. “Integrity is a big thing for me. The music has to have it. That’s what you strive for.”
At the Wilbur Theater, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets $37-$50, 617-248-9700, www.thewilbur.com