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Soul Express Album of the Month

May 2008

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Private Collection
(US Branicka Records CD, 2008)
1) Crazee 2) Favorite Time of the Year 3) Beer for Breakfast 4) She 5) You Made Me Love You 6) Skylark 7) Secret Love 8) Days of Wine and Roses 9) Guess Who? 10) Counting My Blessings

There is no doubt about the album of the month pick this time – especially when this CD is also an extremely strong candidate for album of the year. Miki Howard’s previous CD Pillow Talk – her first in five years – was a collection of her favorite soul standards. When reviewing that album, I stated that I was “very happy that so many tracks have received a jazzy arrangement with lots of real instruments, and Miki is really in her element singing very personal readings of Inseparable, This Masquerade or Go Away Little Boy”. On this new album, Miki continues her exploration of standard songs, interpreting five of her favourite jazz ballads, but what is even more important, she opens the set with five brand new songs – all of which sound like instant classics!

Miki is no novice at interpreting jazz standards: on her previous recordings, she has covered Imagination, You’ve Changed, Good Morning Heartache, This Bitter Earth and an albumful of Billie Holiday covers (Miki Sings Billie). You can thus easily believe that Miki is on familiar ground when she interprets Skylark, Secret Love, Days of Wine and Roses, Guess Who and Counting My Blessings. They are all backed by a genuine jazz trio of drums, piano and bass – no saxophone this time. The overall atmosphere is quite serene, allowing Miki’s full-blown vocals to take the centre stage. I truly enjoyed every second.

Still, I think the main course on Private Collection are the five new songs, on which the overall standard is sky high. They are produced by Miki herself together with Chuckii Booker. The set opens with the brilliant jazzy mid-tempo song Crazee, which really sounds like a classic but is a brand new song. The backdrop swings in an admirable way, driven by a strong bass line, piano riff and jazzy drumming, and in the middle of the track we are offered a lively piano solo. Miki herself sounds better and better each year, and I cannot imagine any other songstress to surpass her tasty performance on this pulsating masterpiece. Certainly among the top picks when we compile our year-end Quality Time top 30 list.

The following track Favorite Time of the Year is equally breathtaking. It is a profound soul-jazz ballad with powerfully charged vocals by Miki from the very first second. It’s another track that will be listened intensively in this household years later. Beer for Breakfast is a song title that will delight beer aficionados amongst our readers – the actual song is quite impressive too, being a down-to-earth bluesy tune with great lyrics.

The next two songs are obviously aimed for soul lovers. Those who adored Miki’s work with Gerald Levert and Marc Gordon in the late 80s, will undoubtedly fall in love with a track titled She, which sounds like late Mr. Levert would have masterminded both the composition and the arrangement. Chuckii Booker was of course also active on those times, producing many great soul artists like Lalah Hathaway, Marva Hicks, Angela Winbush and his godfather Barry White – whereas Chuckii’s solo albums on Atlantic were from 1989 and 1992.

Even much better is, though, the next new song You Made Me Love You, which rivals earlier Miki Howard classics such as Love Under New Management. I personally described Love Under New Management as a heavily gospel-influenced burner, and precisely the same description fits to You Made Me Love You; a majestic new composition with wonderful bitter-sweet lyrics and Miki’s powerful, emotional interpretation.

Get the album while you can!

-Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express, editor

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