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Jennifer Holliday: The Song Is You

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 9/ 10


Soul Express CD of the Month - April-June 2014

US Shanachie, 2014
Buy this album from our CD Shop

1) The Song Is You
2) Love Dance
3) The Look Of Love
4) At Last
5) Nobody Does It Better
6) Love Me By Name
7) Are You Leaving Me
8) The One You Used To Be
9) It's Not About You
10) Love Is On The Way

This album is currently topping our own Serious Soul Album Chart, and quite deservedly so; as this CD is a strong contender for the album of the year in 2014.

Jennifer Holliday is best remembered as the performer of the earth-shattering original version of the 1982 number one soul hit And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going - the song that is now interpreted by every second American Idol or X-Factor competitor - most of which probably think Jennifer Hudson did the original. Still, Jennifer Holliday can probably thank American Idol for reviving her career, as Holliday has been a popular visitor in many TV shows and big arenas in recent years. Now she has finally recorded a new album - her first secular album since her 1994 album On and On.

Frankly, I didn't have high expectations on this album, after noting that it has been released on the Shanachie label, which has forced several old school soul artists to sing blatant auto-tuned crap in recent years. Thankfully, Shanachie's one man band Chris "Big Dog" Davis has nothing to do with this album, instead we have 42 musicians playing the backdrops plus a full jazz big band (28 members) - and no autotune!

The utterly mellow and adult musical setting inevitably has led to some negative feedback from the hip hop generation CD buyers - there are no guest rappers or R&B stars featured here - and the younger generation have found the big orchestration dull and "too mellow". Surely, the album is more targeted to the 50+ audience than teenagers who think that Usher represents "classic soul".

The album is a mixture of picks from the great American songbook and some new songs. Every tune is dedicated to another famous performer - and these range from Aretha Franklin and Etta James to Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston. And not very surprisingly, my personal favourites are songs that are tributes to Phyllis Hyman and Patti LaBelle...

Admitteldy, I have heard more inspiring readings of the much covered Burt Bacharach-Hal David song The Look of Love or the Etta James classics At Last, but I have very little to complaint about Jennifer's interpretation of these songs, either. Still, I believe Jennifer is more at home while performing more soulful material like the swaying Aretha cover Are You Leaving Me?.

There are only a couple of new songs, but these are excellent. Touch is written by Narada Michael Walden, and the song is dedicated to Patti LaBelle. The song is also arranged in a more modern, yet very tasty backdrop. Number one song on our own Quality Time Cream Cuts chart of recommended new soul tracks. Another great personal favourite is a track written by Gordon Chambers and dedicated to the late great Phyllis Hyman, entitled It's Not about You. There's a programmed rhythm on this one too, but on top of that we can hear piano and trumpet, and Jennifer's reading is absolutely delicious.

The album closes with a version of D.J. Rogers' 1977 classic song Love Is on the Way, displaying the more spiritual side of Jennifer, and performed over a peaceful piano based backing.

Essential purchase to anyone who adores Jennifer's passionate and colourful vocal style. No compromises here.

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