Monday, August 21, 2006

Feels Good Release Video

Check out this new video from my favorite group to learn more about Take 6's past and their hopes for Feels Good and their new label, Take 6 records.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Review: Vickie Winans' Woman to Woman: Songs of Life

Vickie Winans
Woman To Woman: Songs of Life (Verity)
Released August 2006
reviewed by LaTonya Taylor

4 out of 5 stars

Sounds like … an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary gospel music for fans of Helen Baylor or Anita Baker.

At a glance … impressive for its magnitude alone, Woman to Woman showcases Winans' stylistic diversity and ability to choose songs that resonate with listeners.

I once saw Vickie Winans behind the scenes at the Stellar Awards, flashing her megawatt smile and wearing an elegant ball gown with little black house slippers. The combination seemed utterly natural—over her 20-plus years in the industry, Winans has been known for her warmth and wit, Motor City fashion flair and down-home honesty.

Winans brings that openness to Woman to Woman: Songs of Life, her follow-up to 2003's Bringing It All Together. Several songs deal with overcoming struggles, likely based on Winans' challenges with health, divorce, and the music industry. The double-disc set combines studio cuts with live tracks recorded at Chicago's House of Hope in May 2006. It's an extremely diverse grouping of songs, featuring Winans' throaty alto in high-energy dance-pop tracks, a soaring ballad or two, R&B slow jams, mass-choir songs, praise and worship choruses, hip-hop, quartet, smooth jazz, and calypso. There's even some gospel go-go on the album, which also includes tributes from sons Mario and Marvin, Jr., an appearance from Winans' protégé trio PreZence, and a duet with husband Joe McLemore.

The inclusion of several songs from the past—including covers of Hawkins Family favorites "Try Christ" and "I Love You Lord," and an expansive, extravagant version of Winans' own "God of Comfort"—give the album a retrospective feel amid more contemporary tracks. Fans of The Winans should listen for a shiverlicious flashback at the beginning of disc 2, when Winans echoes the group's 1989 Live at Carnegie Hall by opening the live set with "A Change Will Come."

Woman to Woman could benefit from some thoughtful trimming and reorganization along a thematic, stylistic or even past-to-present motif. As is, it's kind of a jumble, often zigzagging between different styles and emotional shades from song to song. Still, in some ways, the magnitude and eclecticism of the project align with elements of Winans' persona. After all, Winans is known for her work ethic—nicknamed "the hardest-working woman in gospel music"—and her generosity.

Review: Izzy's In Awe of You

In Awe of You (VGR Entertainment)
Released May 2006
reviewed by LaTonya Taylor

4 out of 5 stars

Sounds like … Soulful R&B for fans of Smokie Norful, J Moss or John Legend.

At a glance … Izzy's earnest tenor and whimsical production sensibilities make In Awe of You a solid debut—and a great listen.

Izzy (full name Israel Bell) is among the first artists signed to Maryland-based VGR Entertainment. Nicknamed "the urban psalmist," his debut In Awe of You seems to reflect his artistic and production vision with an earnest, melismatic tenor, and a techno-soul, rhythm 'n' praise vibe.

Izzy wrote and produced most of the tracks himself, but the album's strength is in its restraint. Even though his techno, R&B and house music influences are clear, Izzy doesn't let the toys take over. The harmonies are tight but mellow, without lots of slick, overproduced electronic layers. The result is an album that makes the most of technology while also preserving the authenticity of the human touch. Production is occasionally playful, like at the end of "Maintain," where the drum track slows, eventually stuttering to a stop, or "You Are," which integrates children's voices over the chorus.

Other potential favorites include "Destiny," which has the easy feel of friends singing around the piano. It's got a nice, rolling groove and would make great material for a small ensemble. "Can't Nobody" is a fun, head-bobbing cruise that's great for summer. Izzy flexes his storytelling muscles in "Need Him Now," which merges sounds of the city with the stories of people in need of compassion.

The title track is a piano-driven ballad with a small corps providing vocals that anchor Izzy's worshipful ad-libs. "Never Let Go Your Hand" is similarly passionate, and "Hand Clap Joint" is danceable, replete with Latin guitar, cartoonish accents, and handclap percussion. "Heaven" is an updated reinterpretation of the contemporary classic recorded by BeBe & CeCe Winans in 1988. Here, Izzy deftly adds touches that accent what we liked about the original without disturbing its essence. The combination of Izzy's vocal and his creative, often whimsical production sensibilities make In Awe of You a solid debut—and a great listen.