While hip-hop finds itself drowning in a sea of one-hit wonders and ringtone rappers, r&b is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Besides the usual club-ready set, recently r&b seems to be wholeheartedly embracing its distant past, looking back to its Motown era roots to provide modern music with a sense of soul and quality that was rarely found over the last decade (my apologies to Blackstreet’s No Diggity). From Raphael Saadiq to Amy Winehouse (pre-crack fueled meltdown Amy), we’re in the midst of a full-fledged retro r&b revolution, and we can now add Melanie Fiona …
DJBooth Album Review
Melanie Fiona stands out in a crowd, even among her creatively minded new-school-meets-old-school peers. Growing up in Toronto as the child of Guyanese parents, Fiona was surrounded by music from a young age, and luckily God saw fit to give the little girl who loved to listen to her father’s band an elite singing voice and the determination to match. Well, that little girl is now very much a woman, and a woman with an intelligent, moving album, The Bridge, to match. We could spend the rest of this review speculating exactly what two worlds Fiona is bridging - the past and the future I assume - but the real point is that Fiona is a talented and engaging artist, and while The Bridge is far from perfect, it’s more than good enough to give us an idea of the kinds of heights she’s capable of reaching.
It’s rare that a label chooses a single as perfectly as SRC chose Give It to Me Right for Fiona. Everything you need to fall in love with her is right there. The deceptively simple and organic production (which spawned endless copies), the fiercely independent lyrics and, most importantly, Fiona’s gripping, honey-kissed vocals, they’re all the perfect introduction, and the reason Give It to Me Right was such a hit. While The Bridge has yet to see another track break out the way Give It to Me Right did, the album has no shortage of other quality offerings, like the more darkly moving and island-tinged cut Ay Yo, or the cinematic Bang Bang, a cut that has Fiona at her most charismatic and sultry. There aren’t many singers who can stylize their vocals without going overboard like Fiona, and Bang Bang works precisely because she’s able to convey such rich story and emotion. It’s good to watch someone do what they love, and do it with such lovely talent.
While Ay Yo works because it takes a tried and true formula and gives it a twist, other tracks on The Bridge fail to connect precisely because they fail to fully commit to their old school ambitions. Just take Please Don’t Go (Cry Baby), one of the album’s more upbeat tracks that should have had me dancing in my seat, but oddly left me cold; I think because the horns sound oddly electronic and Fiona feels like she’s going through the motions. The Bridge’s other most notable up-tempo offering, Johnny, suffers from exactly the same problem, and it’s not the turntable scratches that do it (those actually work great). Instead, the track feels constantly like it’s on the verge of climaxing but never does, leaving me feeling like I opened a Christmas present to find the sneakers I wanted inside, only in the wrong color. Still, these shortcomings are more rooted in incomplete production than Fiona’s vocals. In fact, the only track Fiona herself left me disappointed on was Walk On By, a track that could have been great if Fiona had channeled some of the song’s anger into her voice. I’m not asking for a Keyshia Cole-esque breakdown, but I need some more vocal fire on a track like Walk On By; I’ve never heard anyone sing “I’m gonna make it hell in your life” so sweetly.
Still, it’d be a shame to concentrate to heavily on The Bridge’s misses when it hits so often. For example, You Stop My Heart is everything I was hoping for from this album, a cut that mixes doo-wop background vocals with soaring singing from Fiona, and without exaggeration I can say that the heartbreaking It Kills Me and flamenco-edged Teach Him are some of my favorite tracks in recent memory. R&b’s renaissance is in good hands with artists like Melanie Fiona at the forefront of the movement, and like any true love, I have to believe that America’s relationship with Fiona will only get better from here.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 11/17/09
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Give It to Me" (2009)
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