Cleo Sol was primed for commercial breakthrough around the turn of the 2010s. The West London native was heard on tracks by Tinie Tempah and DaVinChe and associated with the latter artist's Dirty Canvas imprint. An appealing pop-R&B single in the neighbourhood of Beyoncé and Amerie was issued in 2012 on major-label Island, but Cleo decided to not release the parent album and withdrew from the industry.
Five years later, she resurfaced beside new songwriting partner and producer Inflo. After a modest quantity of comparatively introspective and vintage-sounding material was quietly released in 2017 and 2018, Cleo and Inflo became the driving force behind Sault, who deposited two LPs by the time this one appeared in March 2020.
Whereas Sault's 5 and 7 explored a myriad of styles, Rose in the Dark favours dusty and intimate R&B with gospel roots, switched up on occasion with dub, bossa nova, and acoustic blues among other naturally integrated sounds. Virtually every instrument, from dubwise bass and electric piano to idiophone and harp, is played with sensitivity and purpose. These qualities are inherent in Cleo's words and vocals, which for the most part nurture and guide -- addressing a lover and sometimes a "baby girl" -- and also self-reflect, unafraid of expressing insecurities and relating a tense moment of uncertainty. There's also a softly-rocking ballad worthy of a blue light basement party, immediately followed by a tranquil testament to companionship, where Cleo's voice -- supported by that of Inflo -- casts its strongest spell.
The album through the penultimate "I Love You" is steady and generous enough, but once the sneaky-brilliant chorus of the closing "Her Light" makes the first pass, its greatness is crystal clear. What a payoff.
A1 One Love
A2 Why Don't You
A3 Young Love
A5 Rose in the Dark
A6 When I'm In Your Arms
B3 Sure of Myself
B4 I Love You
B5 Her Light