Diminutive L.A. R&B diva-in-the-making Leela James is a bone-black, natural woman—and natural extends, in glorious dimensions, to her rusty Afro bouffant. Over the past 20 years of neo-soul, many sepia diva-lettes have aspired to the hallowed thrones of ReRe, Patti, and especially Chaka, with very mixed results, a lot of oversouling, and dubious pitch correction. But Lil’ Leela loomed large, and well ahead of the pack, with her major-label debut, A Change Is Gonna Come. Times are unkind to real sistas who can sang and rock harder than Chuck Berry’s ax. We still hope that, like Miz Mavis and Bettye LaVette recently did, our gal will triumph over aesthetic compromises, the black generation gap, and the ever-fickle marketplace. Opening for Aretha Franklin.

Sat., Sept. 13, 8 p.m., 2008

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