Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Somewhat Holiday (Music Review: Jennifer Holiday, The Song is You)

It's been three decades since Jennifer Holiday made a splash on Broadway on "Dreamgirls," and it has been two since she released her last secular album, "The Song Is you.." So it is with great anticipation that I listened to her new album, "The Song Is You."  And an article read intimated that this new album will be jazz-tinged which made me even more excited, because, well, I can imagine her singing standards, yet at the same breath, I can't imagine how she would singing these songs from the Great American Songbook.  Well, it looks like only less than half of the album are standards. And those, she does interestingly. Holiday has always had a voice you cannot categorize. As a matter of fact, that was part of the problem why she hasn't enjoyed a healthy recording career. Her voice is too big, and she has all these 'tics' - grunts, melisma - that were a little too much to take sometimes. They worked well in the context of, say, "And I Am Telling You," but can you imagine it on, say Lins' "Love Dance,"  a sweet subtle Brasilian ballad? Well, it turns out she gives this song an unexpected kick - she sings the words almost defiantly, and it becomes an aggressive paean of love, giving the song an unexpected freshness. That same style also works for "the Song Is You," as if she was bombastign her love, for better or worse. On "Nobody Does It better," that same defiance works as well, and when she sashays "Baby you're the best," you wanna give her a high five. But the rest of the album falls flat, unfortunately. Her "at Last" is strong for sure, but somewhat karaoke-ish of Etta James version, and the rest of her R & B flavoured songs left me all cold. They all have a dated 90s smooth-jazz sound, era Anita Baker. This really saddens me because after all these years, no one still knows what to do with her voice. But I will cherish the four tracks here that I love (they would be great additions to compilation albums)  I know when my iPod randomly chooses those songs to play, I will feel a touch of Holiday magic.

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