(US Woo Records CD, 1998)
1) Love Hurts 2) Free 3) Inside My Love 4) Heaven's Just a Whisper Away 5) Your Precious Love 6) Before I Let Go 7) I waited All My Life (For You) 8) Forever Mine 9) Special My Love 10) Tossin' and Turnin 11) You Know How to Love Me 12) He's the Only One 13) You Are So Beutiful 14) Free (reprise)
Some of you may remember Juanita Dailey as a guest vocalist on Kim Waters' fine Sweet & Saxy set back from 1990, where she delivered a splendid jazz-soul ballad titled Stay. As stylish as this track was, no one could then possibly anticipate that eight years later Juanita would record her solo debut, which is mainly produced by Norman Connors and Dexter Wansel, and features such luminaries as Jean Carne, Ali Ollie Woodson, Angela Bofill, Norman Brown, Gerald Albright, Bobby Lyle, Marion Meadows, the Earth Wind & Fire Horns and Paulinho DaCosta as guest artists!
These names alone should make your mouth water - or otherwise you're probably reading the wrong music magazine - yet the best thing is that the most exciting thing on the album is Juanita herself! She sounded quite delightful in 1990, but today her voice has matured to such an excellence that I rate her as the most exciting female vocalist who has debuted since Cindy Mizelle in 1994.
There are 13 full-length tracks on Juanita's debut, titled Free (US Woo Records 24946). Some of you may be disappointed after noticing that five of the tracks are versions of very familiar soul classics, and I also personally would have preferred something fresher than for example the often covered Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell chestnut Your Precious Love, but when The Temptations' lead singer Ali Woodson is featured as Juanita's duet partner on the song, I'm certainly not complaining!
Of the other remakes, the title track is an extremely elegant jazzy version of Deniece Williams' classic, although Will Downing's reading of the song was at least equally shining. Norman Connors has also produced covers of one of the most famous songs of Maze and Phyllis Hyman, Before I Let Go and You Know How to Love Me (featuring Jean Carne and Angela Bofill). Both versions are different (jazzier) enough arrangements to sound interesting, yet it would be very daring to claim that these version would match the originals.
Thus, the most inspiring performances on the CD are the new songs. Two of them are written and produced by Vikter and James Poyser, who have recently worked with Erykah Badu, and these tracks are truly impressive. Love Hurts was released as a first single from the CD, and it's a meaty mid-paced handclapper that samples Barry White and manages to sound very fresh and stimulating, especially when the actual melody is soulful in the extreme and Juanita's delivery is sheer ecstasy!
Also, the sax-laced beat ballad He's the Only One (produced and written by Juanita herself) is nothing short of marvellous, while Inside My Love, Heaven's Just a Whisper Away, I Waited All My Life and Special My Love offer a luxurious quality soul setting for Juanita's full-grown delivery.
Most likely the album of the year. Ismo Tenkanen