American Idol has reached the round of 36…a four-week elimination derby, the contestants separated in groups of 12 for three weeks with the fourth week being a wildcard round, with 3 finalists graduating into the final 12 each week. The first dozen didn’t exactly acquit themselves with honor (the next American Idol might be in that group…but at first blush it doesn’t seem likely) and we’re not going to dwell on it.
Instead we’re going to dwell on one of the better CDs to come from a former AI contestant, the long-awaited (by me anyway) collection by the enormously talented Melinda Doolittle (the third place finisher two editions ago.)
Coming Back to You isn’t perfect…the first few tracks have arrangements that seem to be trying to overwhelm Doolittle’s voice (though ends up she holds her own with aplomb)…but it’s pretty damn fine once it gets going…if for no other reason as to show that the “retro soul” thing isn’t solely the province of young British singers these days :-)
The opening “Fundamental Things” is a bit fussy but things pick up a bit with “It’s Your Love”, a rather generic love song given more life than it probably deserves by Melinda’s impassioned voice (the same is true for “Declaration of Love” and the mid-tempo title track which , again, is too fussy with needless horns…Doolittle is a real singer and the producer should have trusted that more rather than piling on unnecessary embellishment like she was some marginally talented pop tart who needed some cover for her lack of vocal chops.)
But things do get interesting. First on a sublime vocal on “The Best of Everything”, the first of 3 Sammy Kahn songs on the album, where Melinda’s soulful voice dominates the arrangement to grand effect. Another Kahn song, “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” is the albums big ballad swimming in strings and muted horns that ably support…rather than try to overwhelm…Doolittle’s luminous vocals.
“Wonderful” is another relatively generic song but, again, the vocal elevates it to a cool, engaging level as it does on the inspirational “I Will Be” and the soaring gospel of “We Will Find a Way”.
And then the righteous Ms. Doolittle tears into a thick slice of blues with her potent reading of Robert Johnson’s feisty and bawdy “Dust My Broom” and makes she makes you want to testify as does so. And later she lets us know that this wasn’t a fluke by dipping into Johnson’s venerated songbook for a funky take on “Walkin’ Blues”.
There is such passion in “If I’m Not in Love” that it sizzles through the speakers…and Melinda conveys that passion without the need to over-sing…as on the rest of the disc, she gives herself over to the song and lets her amazing voice do its thing with style and with a refreshing lack of melodrama (which makes the big note at the end of this track all the more thrilling.)
And at the end it’s just Melinda (sweet and nuanced) and a keyboard (still a bit too high in the mix but only a bit distracting) on the 3rd Sammy Kahn tune, the lovely “Wonder Why”…a charming and effective wrap up.
Coming Back to You is one of the better efforts from an American Idol alum…and it’s an engaging collection in its own right…it’s all good :-)