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THE MIKI HOWARD STORY
ALBUM BY ALBUM


Check also the full Miki Howard discography of albums



Alicia Michelle Howard was born September 30, 1960 in Chicago. Her parents sang in the local gospel groups; her mother Josephine Howard was a member of gospel group The Caravans and her father Clay Graham is one of the key members of The Pilgrim Jubilee Singers. Miki remembers that also secular music was played at her home, especially records by Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, Shirley Bassey, Morgana King and Little Jimmy Scott, who was Miki’s personal favourite. Miki started singing with James Cleveland Choir at the age of eight.

While in elementary school, Miki moved to Los Angeles with her mother. At the age of 15, she was performing in a teen pageant, and was introduced to Augie Johnson (the leader of Side Effect) after the show. Augie invited Miki to perform with Side Effect and later Miki replaced Sylvia St. James when she left the group. Miki and Augie were also romantically involved, and they had two children, though they never married or even lived together. Miki stayed with the group until they were dropped by Elektra in the mid-80s.

Even during her tenure with Side Effect, Miki also built a reputation as a background singer both in the studio and on the road. Thus she worked with several big names including Gap Band, Roy Ayers, Esther Phillips, Billy Cobham, Stanley Turrentine and Philip Bailey. As a consequence, Miki managed to get a solo recording deal with Atlantic in 1986 and late same year her debut album was ready to be released.



Come Share My Love
Atlantic LP 7816881, 1987
A 1) Come Share My Love 2) Love Will Find a Way 3) Imagination 4) Come Back to Me Lover
B 1) I Can't Wait (To See You Alone) 2) I Surrender 3) My Friend 4) You Better Be Ready to Love Me 5) Do You Want My Love

Atlantic tried to mould Miki Howard to become a new Whitney Houston, and had hired producer LeMel Humes to do the job. At that time, Humes was a rather unknown producer but later he has worked with Stephanie Mills, Milira, Debelah Morgan and Johnny Gill – and done a better job with Miki as well.

Listening to this album today, one can hear all the classy trademarks in Miki’s vocalising, although her voice was not even nearly as strong as it is now. Still, at the time of the release, I felt that both the album and the singer lacked personality. Maybe it was the material and overall production style, which did not differ from other major label releases at that time. Anyway, with a more distinctive production and arrangements, the album would have been much more worthwhile. But even as such, it contained several notable tracks.

All the hit singles were picked from the A-side, which is quite strong, indeed. The opening song Come Share My Love peaked at position 5 on Billboard soul chart, and it reminded me of Whitney’s punchiest cuts, with an instantly memorable melody line and powerful singing over a mid-tempo beat. The backing is really faceless, using programmed drums and synths, but that was the easiest way to get airplay and a sizeable hit for a new (solo) artist in the soul scene. The single was released late 1986 and it spent almost six months on the soul charts.

The next single pick was, quite surprisingly, a jazz standard Imagination (by Burke / Van Heusen), best known from Glen Miller’s repertoire. You can actually find hundreds of matches in the Allmusic.com database who have recorded the same song. These include Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Carmen McRae, Frank Sinatra etc. Miki’s version is arranged in a string-coated, MOR setting with rather little jazz nuances, but she sings the familiar song in a dedicated way, and Dave Schiavone’s robust saxophone solo adds some further colour to the atmosphere. The single didn’t quite reach the top ten, but it was close (peak position # 13).

I’ve heard a rather effective 12 inch remix of the third single Come Back to Me Lover, which is a better-than-average upbeat mover with Miki singing delicious ad-lib parts over the groovy programmed backing. The 12” is certainly worth hunting for club DJs.

The fourth cut on the A-side of the vinyl album was Love Will Find a Way, a mediocre LeMel Humes tune in a mid-paced backing coloured by Jeff Smith’s short saxophone solo.

The B-side is much weaker than the A-side. It contains two cuts produced by keyboard player Peter Scherer, the first of which is a spirited dancer with a brilliant horn section (Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, Dick Hyde, Larry Hall) and some Latin-style percussion work by Bashiri Johnson. Certainly not a bad track, but maybe not the right kind of material for Miki, who really would have preferred jazzy ballads like Imagination. In her interview, she stated that if she had been able to choose by herself, all tracks would have been like Imagination

The more synthetic dance tracks on the B-side really don’t deserve a detailed analysis, suffice it to say that they were rather modest tracks and no other singer would have made them better. The only ballad on the B-side was a Whitney-ish pop-soul ballad My Friend, sung over “Kurzweil 250 computer systems” played by LeMel, as it its stated in the sleeve notes. Not my idea of an ideal soul music setting!

Reading Miki’s interview at the time of her debut solo set, it seemed that also she herself realised that her first album had its weaknesses and that it did not display her individuality. In her Blues & Soul interview Miki said that there is “plenty of room for improvement” and that her next album would be “a little more personal”.


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Love Confessions
Atlantic LP 7818101, 1988
A 1) Baby Be Mine 2) You've Changed 3) That's What Love Is 4) In too Deep B 1) Crazy 2) Better Love 3) I Wanna Be There 4) Reasons 5) Love Confession
CD Bonus Track: 10) Edge of Love


For once, the commercial trends were favourable for the artistic development of major label soul singers. Anita Baker had released her Rapture set in 1986, and in the following years songstresses like Stephanie Mills, Regina Belle, Shirley Jones, Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carne and Angela Winbush were scoring big hits with gorgeous soulful ballads.

Atlantic was still unsure what to with Miki’s musical style, and they obviously tried to play safe by hiring several different producers on Miki’s sophomore set. Luckily, these included also Gerald Levert and Marc Gordon (of the Atlantic hit group Levert), veteran Arif Mardin and Nick Martinelli, who had just started to get enormous success by producing classic soul ballads with real instrumentation for Stephanie Mills (I Was Good All Over) and Regina Belle (Show Me the Way, So Many Tears). Stephanie’s I Was Good All Over was Martinelli’s first major hit with his new production style. He had abandoned rhythm machines, and had decided to stick to real instruments. As Martinelli himself confessed in Billboard, he didn’t try to hide that his inspiration of this sudden change in style came from Anita Baker’s Rapture album:

“I said I was going to get away from machines, and I did. I was impressed when I heard Anita Baker’s albums; I felt that mechanical sound was definitely missing, and that’s what I went after” (Billboard, September 5, 1986).

Still, I’d hasten to add that Nick Martinelli’s style was far from an imitation of Baker’s music. On the contrary, Martinelli’s style was a superb combination of a rootsy, often gospel-flavoured atmosphere and a marvellous, intensive musical backdrop full of delicious nuances.

Baby Be Mine is a prime example of this. The track opens with a saxophone intro, and as soon as Miki starts her soulful reading, you can feel an almost Aretha-like gospel-ish atmosphere. But the swinging rhythm (Darryl Burgee on drums) and the wailing saxophone by Sam Peake take the overall feel far from gospel and give the tune its unique, intense-in-the-extreme flavour. Miki herself is really in her element while having a chance to ad-lib over the swaying backdrop during the last few minutes of the song. The tune was co-written by Ashley Ingram of the UK disco-funk aggregate Imagination, and Ingram is also responsible for the fabulous arrangement together with Martinelli. A perfect soul masterpiece that I rank along the finest moments of soul music of the 80s – or any decade, to be honest!

The Arif Mardin –produced jazz standard You’ve Changed (best known as Billie Holiday’s version) is naturally a follow-up to Imagination on Miki’s previous album, but actually much better. Now the arrangement is not a string-coated MOR-jazz backdrop but much more stylish musical setting with Philippe Saisse on keyboards and Phil Bodner on clarinet. And as you can guess, Miki is in great form while getting a chance to breathe life into this old standard with her mature yet fresh interpretation.

However, You’ve Changed was not released as a single. Baby Be Mine was deservedly the first smash top ten hit from this album, and it was followed by even bigger top ten hit when the Gerald Levert duet That’s the Way Love Is was released as a single. The song was set in a slamming programmed beat, but the tune is an extremely soulful ballad and both Miki and Gerald sing the tune in a mighty gutsy, powerful way. Douglas Gaines’ saxophone solo crowns this excellent modern soul ballad. Coincidentally, Gerald and Miki also had a short but torrid affair, but at the time of the recording this duet, the twosome did not speak to each other – maybe that’s why the duet is so full of explosive power – what a fiery duet!

V. Jeffrey Smith and Peter Lord (of Family Stand fame) were recruited to produce some swingbeat cuts on the album, but they failed miserably with In too Deep and Bitter Love, both of which Miki and the producers would certainly rather forget they have ever recorded. A waste of everyone’s time.

We can also be very happy that LeMel Humes did not produce more tracks on this album, as  I Wanna Be There is another desperate try to repeat Whitney Houston’s pompous “Disney ballad” style - you know what I mean - and the title track Love Confession is an amazingly poor synthetic funker.

Instead, the second Levert contribution Crazy is another proof of Gerald Levert’s huge (and now sadly missed!) talent. Despite the programmed beats, the tune is pure gold and would have been classic Philadelphia soul for O’Jays with its tasty vocal group -like chorus (sung by the Levert trio), over which Miki bends and shapes her voice in an utterly soulful manner. Wonderful stuff, indeed.

The second Martinelli production was a cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic Reasons. It’s a respectable cover of the Philip Bailey bravura, but lacks the brilliance of the arrangement that made Baby Be Mine so breathtaking.

The CD version of this album also contained a bonus track, titled Edge of Love. It was actually picked from the film soundtrack Fatal Beauty, and thus it’s no wonder that this pop-inclined mid-tempo mover differs vastly in style from the rest of the CD. Certainly no need to hunt for the CD for this track alone.

Despite its dreary dance tracks, Love Confession is an essential album without which none of our readers should live. It has to be noted, though, that all the four best tracks from this album were included in Rhino’s The Very Best of Miki Howard compilation from 2001.


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Miki Howard
Atlantic LP/CD 82024, 1989
1) If You Still Love Her 2) Come Home to Me 3) Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do) 4) Ain't Nuthin' in the World 5) Love Under New Management 6) I'll Be Your Shoulder 7) Love Me All Over 8) Mister 9) Just the Way You Want Me To 10) Who Ever Said It Was Love

It seems that Miki’s second solo album Love Confessions really proved to everyone what was the right direction musically for Miki. Anyone with a pair of ears could hear that offering synthetic funkers for Miki was a waste of talent, and that she was doing fabulous work while singing ballads, either roosty old-time soulful ballads or interpreting jazz classics. It was time to release a more ballad-oriented set. Six out of ten tracks on this self-titled set were ballads.

At the time of releasing the album, Miki herself stated that the new album “is probably more soulful, more mature, both vocally and in the terms of the subject matter”. The album yielded three big hits: the first single pick Ain’t Nuthin’ in the World was a number one hit, the second release Love Under New Management a number 2 hit and the third pick Until You Come Back to Me a number 3 hit!

All three were different kind of tracks. The number one hit Ain’t Nuthin’ in the World was a trendy swingbeat cut typical of the period, not a very memorable track and probably musically the weakest link of the whole album, but it gained a lot of airplay and earned Miki her well-deserved first number one hit.

The second major hit Love Under New Management is another story. It was produced by Nick Martinelli, who tried to repeat the successful formula of Baby Be Mine on Miki’s previous album, and did it in an impressive way. Although the arrangement is now less experimental, the song is another superbly soulful new masterpiece. I’m sure it would have peaked the soul charts as well if it had been released as the first single pick, but even at the time when most of Miki’s fans already had the album, it climbed to the number two position of Billboard’s soul charts.

The song was written by husband and wife Gabriel and Annette Hardeman, who already had written one number hit, Stephanie Mills’ I Feel Good All Over, also produced by Martinelli, so he could trust this couple’s song-writing skills. Indeed, the song sounded like an instant classic, and Miki recorded the track in the classic Sigma Sound studios in Philadelphia (founded by Joseph Tarsia), whereas the rest of the album was mainly recorded elsewhere. Sam Peake blows the saxophone on this heavily gospel-inclined burner.

The third hit was another contemporary remake of an old classic, just like Imagination on Miki’s debut and You’ve Changed on her sophomore set. This time Miki had chosen Aretha’s bravura Until You Come Back to Me, which was turned into a modern, light swingbeater. Maybe not one of the original arrangement’s, really, but otherwise I could well accept that Miki wanted to cover an Aretha song – she was becoming a modern day Aretha herself! Actually Love Under New Management would have been ideal material for Aretha.

The swingbeat hits were produced by Jon Nettlesbey and Terry Coffey (of the soul group Truth Inc.), who did a much better job two years later with Keith Washington, but on this album they also produced two classy ballads. At this time Nettlesbey and Coffey were an unknown writing and production team. They were also from Chicago, and they played in a local band with Karen Mayo, who became Miki’s production coordinator. While Miki couldn’t get in touch with more famous producers while preparing her third album, she asked her friends if they had any material for her. Jon and Terry recorded some demos, and Sylvia Rhone at Atlantic got excited by these tapes.

However, both Miki and the producers were shocked when they noticed that Atlantic had chosen to go with Ain’t Nuthin’ in the World as the first single, because they all expected that If You Still Love Her, the album opener, would have been the first pick. “It’s traditional Miki Howard, one of those torch songs that Miki used to do”, said Nettlesbey. The song starts with Brandon Fields’ saxophone, and the tune really is a strong, powerfully delivered soul ballad that would have deserved  more recognition, but it was never released as a single.

Instead, the other Nettlesbey & Coffey ballad, Come Home to Me, was released as the fourth single, and it’s also quality soul with an excellent melody and neat production that reminds me of Freddie Jackson’s Barry Eastmond-produced hits.

The B-side of the vinyl album contained three tracks produced by Gerald Levert and Marc Gordon, one by Larry Blackmon (of Cameo) and yet one standard swingbeat cut by Nettlesbey and Coffey – with Keith Washington singing background vocals.

Gerald Levert did another duet with Miki, even though they weren’t any longer dating at that time. Actually Miki was pregnant for a new man in her life while recording this album. “Gerald wanted to sow his (wild) oats, while I wanted to get married”, explained Miki. “Four weeks after Gerald and I broke up, I met a guy, and a few weeks after that, we got married”. Unfortunately the marriage was a terrible mistake, according to Miki it was “an abusive relationship with a man who was not part of the music business yet insisted on controlling every aspect of Miki’s life”. (Source: the liner notes of The Very Best of Miki Howard, by A. Scott Galloway)

Anyway, the Gerald Levert duet I’ll Be Your Shoulder was another worthwhile ballad tune, although not as great as That’s the Way Love Is on Miki’s previous album. The track was arranged in a typical Levert sound, but contained some tasty saxophone over the programmed beats, and the singing by the former lovers was as fiery as ever.

Of the other Levert contributions, Mister was a slamming upbeat cut, but the next track Just the Way You Want Me a surprisingly traditional ballad in an airy, stylish background. Even Eddie Levert, Sr. of the O’Jays is featured in the background vocals together with Gerald and Sean Levert plus Terry Stubbs, who wrote the song together with Duane Mitchell. Excellent, rootsy soul ballad.

The closing track was produced by Larry Blackmon, who certainly was an unexpected person to produce Miki, but he didn’t try to mould Miki into a funk style, instead the track Who Ever Said It Was Love was a modern beat ballad that was self-written by Miki with Kevin Phillips.

The album is rated as Miki’s best ever album by many critics. It certainly was her most consistent effort this far, but I have to admit that all the uptempo tunes with their trendy swingbeat rhythms and sharp synth lines sound desperately dated today. Luckily, the majority of the tracks were ballads, and all of them were worthwhile. While listening to the album today, one track stands heads and shoulders above the others, and it is the Martinelli production Love Under New Management.


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Femme Fatale
US Giant/Warner CD 24452, 1992
1) Good Morning Heartache 2) This Better Earth 3) Hope That We Can Be Together Soon 4) Shining Through 5) But I Love You 6) Ain't Nobody Like You 7) I've Been Through It 8) Release Me 9) Thank You For Takin' Me To Africa 10) Cigarette Ashes On The Floor 11) New Fire from an Old Flame

Miki’s third Atlantic album was her most successful so far, earning her three top 3 hits, so quitting Atlantic at this point didn’t make any sense, but that’s what Miki decided to do after her husband convinced her to leave “because she didn’t have a gold album while fellow artists Shirley Murdock and Regina Belle did”.

  Anyway, the start with the new label (Giant in Warner’s distribution) was great. Miki had Cassandra Mills(Stephanie Mills’ sister-in-law) as her executive producer, and the first single on a new label was another number one hit for Miki. It was titled Ain’t Nobody Like You, and this slowly grinding sexual song reunited Miki with producer LeMel Humes, who was now writing and producing much more mature material than in the 80s. Miki herself describes the track as follows: “Before that, I never sang sexual songs. This one was strictly physical, honey!” Miki is really in her element while ad-libbing over the slow but funky groove.

  This album also contained some wonderful upbeat cuts. While I disliked most of the uptempo tracks on her previous sets, the club-oriented Release Me has always been my favourite cuts on this strong album. It was produced written and produced by Nettlesbey and Coffey, who were now successful producers, but they were happy to return to work with Miki with whom they started their producing career. Release Me has a great shuffling rhythm not far from Soul II Soul’s classic Keep on Movin, and Miki’s wailing is just delicious. Certainly nothing wrong also with Miki’s cover of  Sly Stone’s Thank You, on which Jerry Livingston plays some of the funkiest bass ever put on record!

Still, the real cream cuts were, as usual, ballads. The album opens with two jazz standards, Billie Holiday’s Good Morning Heartache and Clyde Otis’ This Bitter Earth. Good Morning Heartache is set in a strong back beat, featuring Joe Sample playing some elegant piano and Larry Williams on sax. A worthwhile interpretation, but even better is Miki’s powerful reading of This Bitter Earth. It is spiced by Roy Hargrove’s splendid trumpet solo. The rootsy song has earlier been recorded by such artists as Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Ella Washington and Della Griffin. Gladys Knight also sings the tune on her fresh Verve CD Before Me.


  Surprisingly, Kenny Gambleand Leon Huff have produced Miki’s reading of the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes hit Hope That We Can Be Together Soon. Kenny and Leon were of course writers of the song, and it is so good to hear real drums and other real musicians playing the background. Christopher Williams duets with Miki, and does his best Teddy Pendergrass improvisation at the end of the song. I actually like this version more than the original!

However, the peak of the CD in my book is a ballad tune which is co-penned and produced by Miki herself: But I Love You. It is set in a luxurious musical backdrop with real drums by Mike Capury, Vincent Henry on saxophone, Dinky Bingham on piano and Jerry Livingston on bass, and the atmosphere is similar to Baby Be Mine. Miki herself sings her heart out while delivering the dramatic ballad.

  The only track I don’t like on the album is the MOR-ish David Foster contribution Shining Through, which sounds like a dull Christmas song. I also feel that the programmed backing by Robbie Buchanan is in contradiction with the church-y overall feel (including a 13-piece gospel choir).


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Miki Sings Billie - A Tribute to Billie Holiday
US Giant 24521 CD, 1993
1) What a Little Moonlight Can Do 2) I'm a Fool to Want You 3) My Man 4) Solitude 5) 'Taint' Nobody's Business If I Do 6) Yesterdays 7) Now or Never 8) Don't Explain 9) Strange Fruit 10) I Want to Be Your Mother's Son-In-Law

In 1992, Miki Howard played Billie Holiday in Spike Lee’s movie Malcolm X. She sang the song I Cover the Waterfront, arranged by Terence Blanchard. Next year, Miki was featured in a John Singleton film Poetic Justice, playing hairdresser Maxine.

In the CD leaflet of The Best of Miki Howard, Miki tells that she knew all about Billie Holiday. Miki deeply identified with the ill-fated singer and needed no preparation for the role. Anyway, the soundtrack album for the Malcolm X only contained original jazz and soul, including one track from Billie Holiday, Big Stuff. Thus, it was a quite logical move from Miki to release an albumful of  Billie Holiday covers. Also, in several interviews, Miki had stated that she was “really a jazz singer”. It was just “because I was young and jazz wasn’t popular in the ‘80s, I couldn’t do it”.

A Tribute to Billie Holiday is really a genuine jazz album, not soulful or MOR-ish covers of Billie Holiday songs, but the real thing. As such, the music is totally different from her covers of jazz classics on her first albums, when she sang over string-coated MOR backings. Now she was backed by a real jazz band, featuring Raymond Pounds on drums, Kevin Brandon on bass and Jeffrey Colella on piano.

The uptempo tunes also boast a horn section: What a Little Moonlight Can Do, 'Taint' Nobody's Business If I Do, Yesterdays, Now or Never and I Want to Be Your Mother's Son-In-Law have a have a wonderful swing and enjoyable saxophone solos. However, although Miki is in great shape while singing these swinging, brassy tunes, she gets a much better chance to show off her mature, deep vocalising on the ballads.

My personal favourite on the album is I'm a Fool to Want You, a wonderful sax-drenched slow burner which gives Miki plenty of room to bend and shape her full-blooded jazz vocalising. My only complaint is that the song is faded after four minutes of playing time, just as Miki is warming up for tasty improvisation.

My Man and Duke Ellington’s Solitude are both set in a relaxed, string-coloured arrangement. The first five tracks were produced by David Foster, while the last five were produced by LeMel Humes and arranged by H.B. Barnum. Strange Fruit has not got the highly dramatic feel of Billie’s version and the arrangement has a rather odd, film-like atmosphere.

The only track from this album that was picked to Miki’s Best of collection was Don’t Explain, which is really one of the highlights here. While I’m not a great fan of the string-coated musical setting, Miki does a splendid job singing the painfully emotional lyrics, which certainly were rather personal for Miki herself at the time, when she was working her way out of her relationship with an abusive husband. She divorced him soon after finishing this album, and unfortunately also the fallout of her marriage cancelled Miki’s contract at Giant label.

Miki Sings Billie was not the out-and-out masterpiece that Miki could have been able to record as her first real jazz album, but it doesn’t contain any weak moments either. With two gorgeous ballads and several brassy uptempo swingers, it was an entertaining and worthwhile album. Hopefully, some day Miki gets a chance to record another jazz album.


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Live Plus
US Warlock 2773 CD, 1996
1) Come Share My Love 2) Imagination 3) That's What Love Is 4) You've Changed 5) Baby Be Mine 6) Blues 7) Ain't Nobody Like You 8) Ain't Nuthin' in the World 9) Love Under New Management 10) Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)

Miki’s next album was on Warlock label, and it was a live album without any credits or details about the recording place or date, or the musicians involved. However, it is a treasure especially for those of her fans who haven’t had a chance to see her on stage yet – including yours truly. The album offers an 11:39 long version of Baby Be Mine, complete with monologues and sax solos, a 7:19 long, sax-drenched reading of Love Under New Management and a delicious, sax-drenched 6:10 version of Imagination, which is much, much better than the string-laced, MOR-ish studio-recorded version on Miki’s debut.

The same could be said of You’ve Changed, which is now in the kind of musical setting I prefer. The backing band is truly solid, featuring real drums, smouldering saxophone, funky bass and strong piano playing. Miki’s vocalising is exactly as rootsy, mature and colourful as you might have expected, and she really enjoys doing the endless adlibbing on the extended ballad versions. On That’s What Love Is Miki is sharing the stage with an uncredited husky-voiced male vocalist, who certainly isn’t Gerald Levert (who sung on the studio version of this hit), as it was suggested on the Allmusic.com review of this CD.

The “Plus” in the title probably refers to the fact that Ain’t Nobody Like You is not a live version but the studio cut of Miki’s number one hit from the Femme Fatale CD. Ain’t Nuthing in the World takes her back to a live setting, and the version of this swingbeat cut sounds indeed more lively than the programmed studio cut. Also, the live version Until You Come Back to Me – the Aretha cover from her third album – is definitely better than the studio version with a light, programmed rhythm: this time we have real drums playing some truly swinging beats and the backing singers adding a joyous gospel feel to this uptempo swayer. The live version of Come Share My Love has much the same spirited atmosphere, and it also outshines the studio cut of the same song.

All in all, a very welcome addition to my record shelf, and an essential purchase for any Miki Howard fan.



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Can't Count Me Out
US HUSH 6611 CD, 1997
1) I Love Every Little Thing About You 2) Sunshine 3) Three's A Crowd 4) You Don't Know What Love Is 5) At Seventeen 6) Get Over You 7) Something I've Never Had 8) Summer 9) Can't Count Me Out 10) I Love Every Little Thing About You (Instrumental)

In 1997, Miki released her first studio recording in four years, when the small Alibi Records indie label (distributed by Hush) published this CD. Despite the indie label, the album was rather similar to her major label albums, containing the usual mixture of soulful ballads, trendy upbeat cuts plus a couple of cover tunes including one jazz standard.

The last mentioned was this time You Don’t Know What Love Is, of which Marilyn Scott recorded a truly splendid interpretation together with Frank McComb in 2001. Miki’s version is almost equally impressive, crowned by some robust (although uncredited) saxophone playing and Miki herself in great shape while colouring the familiar tune with her personal, full-bodied phrasing.

There were a couple of other cover tunes, too. At Seventeen is a song originally written by folk-rock artist Janis Ian, but it has been recorded by several jazz artists as well. Unfortunately Miki’s reading seems to be influenced by the rock versions, and in Robby Takac’s (a member of the rock group Goo Goo Dolls) rock-oriented production and arrangement the track seems to be completely out of place on this album. Oddly enough, it is followed by even a rockier track, the guitar-inflected Get Over You, which is undoubtedly lyrically aimed at Miki’s ex-husband.

The Stevie Wonder cover I Love Every Little Thing about You was a duet with Terence Trent D’Arby, while Chaka Khan was singing backing vocals. The track was produced by Kenneth Crouch, who has worked with Lenny Kravitz, Eric Clapton, Destiny’s Child, Lauryn Hill and Brandy, and to be honest, I don’t think Kenneth was an ideal producer to Miki, either. Maybe this catchy singalong pop jogger would have been a chart hit on a bigger label, but I’m actually glad it wasn’t, so it didn’t encourage Miki to continue in this style.

It appears that the Brenda Russellsong Sunshine was an original for Miki, and it has not been recorded by anyone else. It is a harmless handclapper with some 2Pac-type of rap added to have more appeal to youngsters. Instead, Three's A Crowd had earlier been recorded by Milira on her Back Again CD in 1992. The track is a neat sax-laced soul ballad, on which Miki does some great adlibbing at the end of the song. Val Young, Penny(e) Ford and Natalie Jackson are featured as the backing singers.

Of the four new songs that Miki has herself written, by far the most outstanding is the title track Can’t Count Me Out, which Miki duets with far father Clay Graham (of the gospel group Pilgrim Jubilee Singers), who sounds a bit like Bobby Womack, and I think this track alone makes the CD worth a purchase. The track is sung over a programmed background by LeMel Humes, but the simple background does not diminish the rootsy soulfulness of this legendary duet, which is certainly one of the best performances ever put on record by a parent/child pair!

The relaxed mid-pacers Something I've Never Had and Summer complete this varied set with its obvious peaks and valleys.


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Three Wishes
US Peak 8502 CD, 2001
1) Three Wishes 2) One Day Without You 3) Nobody 4) From Now On 5) Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady 6) Don't Give Your Heart 7) Kiss Of A Stranger 8) Imagine 9) Bring Your Loving Home 10) Meant To Be

In 2001, Miki managed to get a record deal with Peak Records (founded by Rippingtons members Andi Howard and Russ Freeman), who also signed vocalists like Regina Belle, Glenn Jones, Phil Perry and Cassandra Reed to their roster, and released new albums for each artist. The overall criticism of these albums – and not only in our Soul Express magazine – was that Peak was playing it much too safe with them, trying to please masses by using neutral, programmed backings with no conspicuous jazz or soul elements.

This applies to the overall feel of Three Wishes as well. When the songwriters and producers included such talented names as Barry Eastmond, Gary Brown, Sam Sims and Gordon Chambers, all of whom had contributed to numerous quality soul releases in the 90s, it was annoying to hear them contribute faceless tracks using nothing but programmed drums and keyboards. Of course, a programmed backing may be tasty sometimes as well, but these simply had all the taste and smell neutralised. You could best describe the CD as neat and consistent, or “pleasant if unremarkable” and “likeable but not mind-blowing”, as it was expressed in the Allmusic.com review.

Still, even the most simple beat backings couldn’t stop Miki adding some genuinely soulful singing on tracks like Nobody, Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady or Three Wishes. In a tastier musical backdrop, these three songs would have been superb soul ballads. The melodies are strong and quite memorable, and Miki delivers them colourfully, although without such a burning passion as on her earlier masterpieces like Baby Be Mine or Love Under New Management. Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady was arguably the peak of the album, and this great Barry Eastmond-Gordon Chambers-penned song sounded like a future classic. The other Eastmond-Chambers collaboration Nobody is almost as classy, and it was chosen to our Quality Time Top 50 countdown of 2001. Gordon Chambers was also singing the backing vocals together with Sara Devine.

The track that differs musically from the rest of the album is Kiss of a Stranger, which is set in a jazz backdrop, but even that is an extremely composed performance with only three instruments (drums, bass and guitar) and avoids any strong nuances.

The rest of the album contains less worthwhile compositions, and the closing tracks Bring Your Loving Home and Meant to Be were modest cover tunes that LeMel Humes had earlier produced for the short-lived Motown act Nu Soul Habit (in 1994). Imagine is a decent enough soul ballad tune, while Don’t Give Your Heart has a Disney-ish schmaltzy feel.

I don’t think many soul fans really were very disappointed when Peak never got a chance to release a second album for any of their soul protégées. This album is now available as a low-price cut-out, and I suggest that you pick it up on the cheap to get the four worthwhile tracks to your collection. They are certainly worth the half price CD.


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The Very Best of Miki Howard
US Rhino CD 74296, 2001
1) Come Share My Love 2) Imagination 3) Love Will Find a Way 4) Baby, Be Mine 5) That's What Love Is 6) Crazy 7) You've Changed 8) Come Home to Me 9) Ain't Nuthin' in the World 10) Love Under New Management 11) Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do) 12) If You Still Love Her 13) Ain't Nobody Like You 14) Good Morning Heartache 15) Release Me 16) Don't Explain

This Rhino collection is really well compiled and contains the excellent biography, written by A. Scott Galloway, cited several times also in this article. My personal choices for Miki’s best of collection from 1986 to 1997 would have contained the following tracks – in order of the release year:

1) Come Share My Love 2) Come Back to Me Lover 3) Baby Be Mine 4) You've Changed 5) That's What Love Is 6) Crazy 7) Love Under New Management 8) But I Love You 9) This Bitter Earth 10) Release Me 11) I'm a Fool to Want You 12) Don't Explain 13) You Don't Know What Love Is 14) Can't Count Me Out

As you can count, eight of these tracks were really included in the Rhino collection, and these choices alone made it a splendid collection, and the inclusions that were on this compilation but not among my personal favourites were the obvious big hits. I think this CD is a valuable purchase especially for those who only have the first Miki Howard albums in vinyl format. This is a way to get the early gems of Miki’s career in a digital format at a very reasonable price. Especially Come Share My Love is a quite rare in its CD format, when it was released at the time when vinyl was still the most common format. Nowadays you have to pay 40-50 US dollars to get Miki’s debut CD.


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Pillow Talk - Miki Sings the Classics
US Shanachie 5762 CD, 2006
1) I Can't Stand The Rain 2) Do That To Me One More Time 3) Go Away Little Boy 4) Pillow Talk 5) This Masquerade 6) Inseparable 7) Lowdown 8) Misty Blue 9) Just Don't Want To Be Lonely 10) Which Way Is Up


It seems that almost all artists who recorded for Peak in the early years of this decade have now switched to Shanachie. Before Miki’s Shanachie debut, Phil Perry and Glenn Jones have already released their albums on the same label, and both of these were all-cover sets. Shanachie has also released all-cover sets by Maysa and Silk. In 2007, Shanachie plans to release similar sets also by Vesta (Williams) and Deniece Williams.

All these albums were repeating the same “all-time classic song” formula, using the same producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis, who used real instruments on some tracks and programmed backdrops on some others. Kim Waters is featured as the saxophonist, Rohn Lawrence as the guitarist and Genobia Jeter-Jones is singing backgrounds not only on her husband’s (Glenn Jones) set but also on Miki’s album. Luckily, Miki herself together with Kim Waters, take care much of the production on Pillow Talk.

I didn’t much care about the choices of cover tunes on Phil Perry’s album, but the albums for Maysa, Glenn Jones and Miki Howard all contained some delicious picks. Of course, the singers themselves were able to choose their favourite songs, and Miki explains in her MySpace biography that she “started out with a list of thirty songs. I drew from songs that were among my favorites. It was very exciting to make this record and I’m really happy with the end result.”

“We started out with I Can’t Stand The Rain which I’ve been hearing from way back. I based my version on Tina Turner’s so you could say doing the song gave me the chance to have my Tina Turner moment! Captain & Tennille’s pop chestnut Do It One More Time is one of my favorite songs. I always liked their music and I thought Tennille was kind of soulful!”

Go Away Little Boy: “Although mine is more similar to the version done by Nancy Wilson, it was Marlena Shaw’s record that I heard during my high school days. In a way, that record by Marlena introduced jazz vocals to young people of my generation.”

Natalie Cole’s number one hit from 1976, Inseparable, is also arranged in a jazzy setting: “I won so many talent contests in the 70s singing that song! I mean, that was the song we all sang when we were trying out in those shows. Natalie was such an inspiration for me musically and personally so this is my way of paying homage to her.

The title track was a version of Sylvia’s number one hit from 1973. “Sylvia Robinson I guess she was the original Lil Kim, a milder version that is! My Mom used to think I was a bad kid because I loved Sylvia’s Pillow Talk so much!”

Boz Scaggs’ 1976 smash Lowdown is probably the catchiest song on the album with its swaying musical backdrop. Miki: “Augie Johnson (of Side Effect) sang on the original version by Boz. I’ve always loved the song and I still think it has a great lyrical message.”

According to Miki, her version of This Masquerade was not influenced by George Benson’s 1976 hit version: “I always thought it was more of a song suitable for a female singer to do and then I heard Shirley Bassey’s version of it. It’s just a great tune.

Also a hit from 1976 was Dorothy Moore’s bravura Misty Blue. “My mom played it so much till we wanted to throw that 45 out! I remember seeing Dorothy sing it on Soul Train so she was one of the lesser-known but important musical influences on me growing up.”

Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely has been recorded by Ronnie Dyson, Blue Magic and Main Ingredient, who inspired Miki to cover the song: “No can sing a melody like Cuba Gooding!” Recently, also Regina Belle and Will Downing have recorded their own versions of the song.

Finally, Miki’s album of classic songs closes with her updated version of Stargard’s funk smash Which Way Is up, a song which also has a special meaning for Miki: “That has just been a very inspirational song for me. I used to play it all the time during my journey in dealing with different personal challenges and that’s why I really wanted to do it.”

Personally, the opening and closing songs are the only tracks I don’t care for on this album, but I really enjoyed the other versions. I’m 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.

Now that Miki’s three children are all grown-up (the youngest is seventeen), Miki can again concentrate on her singing career, and I’m sure that she will record lots of classics in the years to come – not only cover tunes but songs that people will remember as classics by Miki herself! As Miki herself stated; “There is so much I would like to do, so many songs I have yet to sing and a whole lot of love to share. I look forward to a second wind!”

Article by Ismo Tenkanen, Soul Express, editor


Added in May 2008: The review of Miki's latest CD Private Collection:


MIKI HOWARD Private Collection
Miki's new webpage: www.miki-howard.com


Miki Howard Discography of Albums