PH Balance speaks fluently

Atlanta's pH Balance speaks many musical languages — hip-hop, soul and funk, among others — but like any multi-linguist, it can't help but hold onto its native accent. Such is the case with the group's latest release, fluent.

"This album for me has been such a gift," says Pam Howe, the group's vocalist and songwriter. "I've been given all these words — more words and clarity than I've ever been given. So I feel really good about it, but it's a very personal expression of me. I get frightened that I'm going to take that out into the world and I'm gonna get hurt."

Similar expressions of identity and vulnerability pull a thematic thread through fluent. The album pulls off a soft, almost bittersweet vibe while working from the group's headstrong, self-affirmed blend of styles. With percussive vinyl cuts over a mellow acoustic guitar loop, and rapping over a folk/soul vocal hook, the album's opening track, "Panorama," sets fluent's mixed stylistic mood.

"I love hip-hop as much as I love bossa nova — it's influenced me as much," Howe says. "I just can't help it. I have to do what comes out of me."

PH Balance's genre-bending self-expression proves to be a risk that usually pays off. At times, though — such as in "Butterfly," where Howe and MC Mudfish sound somewhat stilted when interrupting one of the group's instrumental grooves — a seeming need to incorporate hip-hop can seem unnecessarily constricting. But fluent's "Music or Weed" and "Proverb Said" pull together soul and hip-hop sensibilities in a cohesive compositional whole. The result is an advanced musical vocabulary that truly communicates.

PH Balance performs at its CD release party Sat., May 19, at the Echo Lounge.??