Monday, June 12, 2006

Review: Sunny Hawkins' More of You

Sunny Hawkins
More of You (Stillwaters/Hidden Beach)
Released June 2006
reviewed by LaTonya Taylor

4.5 of 5 stars

Sounds like … classic, gospel-tinged R&B/neo soul for fans of Beyoncé, Jill Scott, Angie Stone, and Lisa McClendon.

At a glance … a creative blend of genres, More of You combines strong vocals, multi-textured music, and thoughtful lyrics to yield a rewarding, enjoyable debut.

Though More Of You is her major-label debut, recently re-released for greater distribution, Sunny Hawkins is hardly a newcomer to the music industry. She's penned songs for Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, played the role of Joanne in the Broadway production of Rent, and provided background vocals for such legendary artists as Chaka Khan, Ray Charles and Luther Vandross. Hawkins also has a strong gospel heritage, by birth and by marriage, as both goddaughter and daughter-in-law to Walter and Tramaine Hawkins, with husband Jamie sharing writing and production credits.

More of You is outstanding on several levels. Hawkins' confident and melismatic soprano has a sweetness balanced with a luxuriant fullness and depth that keep her voice from becoming too sugary. She's got the bold, soaring power of a stage singer, but she can also sound tender, even whispery. The album also generally distinguishes itself with the quality of the songwriting. While there are plenty of hook-based songs and gospel vamps, they accent and support the lyrics rather than simply provide substance for the song. And rather than feeling like a disconnected collection of songs, More of You flows as an album—no small feat, especially given its eclectic mix of gospel-tinged rock, R&B, pop, and neo-soul.

Given these factors, it's difficult to choose the "best" tracks on the album. Especially rewarding are the cool, layered introlude, with a spoken-word description of Hawkins' testimony and mission; the guitar-driven funk-rock of the title track; the old-meets-neo soul of "Where Would I Be;" the adult-contemporary power ballads "It's Like Air" and "What a Man;" the multitextured "Jesus the Same," which feels like a modern-day hymn; "You're Everything," and "Love Me Too," both with particularly thoughtful themes; and the bounce-pop "Alright."

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