When Dionne Farris left Arrested Development, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed new acts of the '90s, there were two general reactions to her departure: Either success had gone to her head or she was plain crazy.
The truth is, the singer--whose backing vocals imbued the group's 1993 Grammy-winning hit "Tennessee" with a stirring soulfulness--had become so disillusioned with the process of making music and the toll it had taken on the group that she had to leave in order to rekindle her passion.
That's a surprise given that the hip-hop collective's music was heralded for its positive vibes. Fans of the group assumed that the goodwill it showcased mirrored the real-life chemistry of the group.
"Don't get me wrong, I had fun," says Farris, 25, of her year with AD. "I learned a lot of valuable lessons. I was cushioned from a lot of things, but I also learned how the business is run. . . . I'm not blaming anyone. Things just changed. I finally had to leave for my own peace of mind. I had to see if I could do it on my own."
What she has done is release an ambitious solo album, "Wild Seed-Wild Flower," that encompasses hip-hop, folk, funk, rock, R&B and blues. It takes cues from the more introspective side of AD while bypassing that outfit's preachiness, though it deals audaciously with topics that range from faith and spirituality to domestic violence.
"There used to be so much substance in R&B," she says wistfully, speaking by phone from New York. "I know this is a business and we have to make money, but I think we've forgotten how to make music . . . that has some real connection to life."
Farris, raised by a single mother in Bordentown, N.J., hooked up with Atlanta's thriving R&B scene after moving there in 1990 and worked with the likes of producer Jermaine Dupri and the group TLC. Word of mouth led her to Arrested Development, where she became the featured vocalist but, she says, "never a full-fledged member, more like an extended-family member."
In support of her new album, Farris has embarked on a small tour that will land at LunaPark on Thursday.
"I want people to come away from my concerts and my album knowing that I believe in the music," she says forcefully. "I want them to see that I believe in the rich history of black music because we've created so much, and that fact sometimes gets overlooked. I just hope they can take some sense of hope or strength from the music. It's a reassuring kind of thing I've got going on."