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 Mikiís 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 Ė and done a better job with Miki as well.
Listening to this album today, one can
hear all the classy trademarks in Mikiís 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 Whitneyís
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 Millerís 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.
Mikiís 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
Schiavoneís robust saxophone solo adds some further colour to the
atmosphere. The single didnít quite reach the top ten, but it was close (peak
position # 13).
Iíve 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 12Ē 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 Smithís 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 ImaginationÖ
The more synthetic dance tracks on the
B-side really donít 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 ďKurzweil 250 computer systemsĒ played by LeMel, as it its stated in
the sleeve notes. Not my idea of an ideal soul music setting!
Reading Mikiís 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 ďplenty of room for
improvementĒ and that her next album would be ďa little more personalĒ.
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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
Mikiís musical style, and they obviously tried to play safe by hiring several
different producers on Mikiís 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). Stephanieís I Was Good
All Over was Martinelliís 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 didnít try to hide that his
inspiration of this sudden change in style came from Anita Bakerís Rapture
ďI said I was going to get away from
machines, and I did. I was impressed when I heard Anita Bakerís albums; I felt
that mechanical sound was definitely missing, and thatís what I went afterĒ
(Billboard, September 5, 1986).
Still, Iíd hasten to add that Nick
Martinelliís style was far from an imitation of Bakerís music. On the contrary,
Martinelliís style was a superb combination of a rootsy, often gospel-flavoured
atmosphere and a marvellous, intensive musical backdrop full of delicious
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 Ė or any decade, to be honest!
The Arif Mardin Ėproduced jazz standard Youíve
Changed (best known as Billie Holidayís version) is naturally a
follow-up to Imagination on Mikiís 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
However, Youíve 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 Thatís 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 Gainesí 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 Ė maybe thatís why the duet is so full of explosive
power Ė 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 everyoneís 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 Houstonís pompous ďDisney
balladĒ 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 Levertís huge (and now sadly missed!) talent.
Despite the programmed beats, the tune is pure gold and would have been classic
Philadelphia soul for OíJays 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. Itís 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 itís 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 Rhinoís The Very Best of Miki Howard compilation from
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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 Mikiís 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 ďis probably more soulful, more mature, both
vocally and in the terms of the subject matterĒ. The album yielded three big
hits: the first single pick Ainít Nuthiní 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 Ainít Nuthiní 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 Mikiís
previous album, and did it in an impressive way. Although the arrangement is
now less experimental, the song is another superbly soulful new masterpiece.
Iím 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 Mikiís fans already
had the album, it climbed to the number two position of Billboardís soul
The song was written by husband and wife Gabriel
and Annette Hardeman, who already had written one number hit, Stephanie
Millsí I Feel Good All Over, also produced by Martinelli, so he
could trust this coupleís 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 Mikiís debut and Youíve
Changed on her sophomore set. This time Miki had chosen Arethaís bravura Until
You Come Back to Me, which was turned into a modern, light swingbeater.
Maybe not one of the original arrangementís, really, but otherwise I could well
accept that Miki wanted to cover an Aretha song Ė 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
Mikiís production coordinator. While Miki couldnít 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 Ainít Nuthiní
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. ďItís
traditional Miki Howard, one of those torch songs that Miki used to doĒ, said
Nettlesbey. The song starts with Brandon Fieldsí 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
itís also quality soul with an excellent melody and neat production that
reminds me of Freddie Jacksonís 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 Ė with Keith Washington singing background vocals.
Gerald Levert did another duet with Miki,
even though they werenít any longer dating at that time. Actually Miki was
pregnant for a new man in her life while recording this album. ďGerald wanted
to sow his (wild) oats, while I wanted to get marriedĒ, explained Miki. ďFour
weeks after Gerald and I broke up, I met a guy, and a few weeks after that, we
got marriedĒ. Unfortunately the marriage was a terrible mistake, according to
Miki it was ďan abusive relationship with a man who was not part of the music
business yet insisted on controlling every aspect of Mikiís lifeĒ. (Source: the
liner notes of The Very Best of Miki Howard, by A. Scott Galloway)
Anyway, the Gerald Levert duet Iíll Be
Your Shoulder was another worthwhile ballad tune, although not as great as Thatís
the Way Love Is on Mikiís 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 OíJays 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 didnít
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
album is rated as Mikiís 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
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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
third Atlantic album was her most successful so far, earning her three top 3
hits, so quitting Atlantic at this point didnít make any sense, but thatís what
Miki decided to do after her husband convinced her to leave ďbecause she didnít
have a gold album while fellow artists Shirley Murdock
Anyway, the start with the new label (Giant in Warnerís distribution) was
great. Miki had Cassandra Mills(Stephanie Millsí
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 Ainít
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: ďBefore
that, I never sang sexual songs. This one was strictly physical, honey!Ē Miki
is really in her element while ad-libbing over the slow but funky groove.
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 Soulís classic Keep on Movin, and Mikiís wailing is
just delicious. Certainly nothing wrong also with Mikiís cover of†
Sly Stoneís 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 Holidayís Good Morning Heartache and
Clyde Otisí 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 Mikiís powerful reading of This Bitter Earth.
It is spiced by Roy Hargroveís splendid trumpet solo. The rootsy song has
earlier been recorded by such artists as Dinah Washington,
Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Ella Washington
Della Griffin. Gladys
sings the tune on her fresh Verve CD Before Me.
Surprisingly, Kenny Gambleand Leon Huff
have produced Mikiís 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
only track I donít like on the album is the MOR-ish
contribution Shining Through, which sounds
like a dull Christmas song. I also feel that the programmed backing by
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 Leeís 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 ďreally a jazz singerĒ. It was just ďbecause I was young and jazz wasnít popular in the Ď80s, I couldnít do
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 Ellingtonís 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 Billieís version and the arrangement
has a rather odd, film-like atmosphere.
The only track from this album that was picked to Mikiís Best of collection was
Donít Explain, which is really one of the highlights here.
While Iím 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 Mikiís 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 doesnít 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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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)
Mikiís 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 havenít had a chance to see her on stage yet Ė 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 Mikiís debut.
The same could be said of Youíve
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. Mikiís
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 Thatís What Love Is Miki is sharing the stage with
an uncredited husky-voiced male vocalist, who certainly isnít Gerald
Levert (who sung on the
studio version of this hit), as it was suggested on the Allmusic.com review of
The ďPlusĒ in the title probably refers to the fact that Ainít Nobody Like You
is not a live version but the studio cut of Mikiís number one hit from the Femme
Fatale CD. Ainít 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 Ė the Aretha cover from her third album Ė 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, 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)
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 Donít Know What Love Is, of which
recorded a truly splendid interpretation together
with Frank McComb
in 2001. Mikiís 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 Mikiís reading seems to be influenced by the rock versions, and
in Robby Takacís (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 Mikiís ex-husband.
The Stevie Wonder cover I Love
Every Little Thing about You was a duet with Terence
Trent DíArby, while Chaka Khan was singing backing vocals. The track
was produced by Kenneth Crouch, who has worked with Lenny Kravitz,
Eric Clapton, Destinyís Child, Lauryn Hill and Brandy, and to be
honest, I donít 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
Iím actually glad it wasnít, so it didnít encourage Miki to continue in this
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 Canít 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
The relaxed mid-pacers Something I've Never Had
and Summer complete this varied set with its obvious peaks
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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 Ė and not only in our Soul
Express magazine Ė 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 ďpleasant if unremarkableĒ and ďlikeable but not mind-blowingĒ,
as it was expressed in the Allmusic.com review.
Still, even the most simple beat backings couldnít stop Miki adding some genuinely
soulful singing on tracks like Nobody, Ainít 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.
Ainít 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
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 Donít Give Your Heart has a Disney-ish schmaltzy
I donít think many soul fans really were very disappointed when Peak never got a
chance to release a second album for any of their soul protťgťes. 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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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 Mikiís best
of collection from 1986 to 1997 would have contained the following tracks Ė 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
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 Mikiís 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 Mikiís 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 Mikiís 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
All these albums were repeating the same ďall-time classic songĒ formula, using the
same producer Chris ďBig DogĒ 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
is singing backgrounds not only on her husbandís
(Glenn Jones) set but also on Mikiís album. Luckily, Miki herself together with
Kim Waters, take care much of the production on Pillow Talk.
I didnít much care about the choices of cover tunes on Phil Perryís 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 ďstarted 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 Iím really
happy with the end result.Ē
ďWe started out with I Canít Stand The
Rain which Iíve been hearing from way back. I based my version on Tina
Turnerís so you could say doing the song gave me the chance to have my Tina
Turner moment! Captain & Tennilleís 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!Ē
Go Away Little Boy: ďAlthough mine
is more similar to the version done by Nancy Wilson, it was Marlena
Shawís 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.Ē
Natalie Coleís number one hit from
1976, Inseparable, is also arranged in a jazzy setting: ďI 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 Sylviaís
number one hit from 1973. ďSylvia 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
Sylviaís Pillow Talk so much!Ē
Boz Scaggsí 1976 smash Lowdown
is probably the catchiest song on the album with its swaying musical backdrop.
Miki: ďAugie Johnson (of Side Effect) sang on the original version by Boz. Iíve
always loved the song and I still think it has a great lyrical message.Ē
According to Miki, her version of This
Masquerade was not influenced by George Bensonís 1976 hit version: ďI
always thought it was more of a song suitable for a female singer to do and
then I heard Shirley Basseyís version of it. Itís just a great tune.
Also a hit from 1976 was Dorothy Mooreís
bravura Misty Blue. ďMy 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.Ē
Just Donít Want to Be Lonely has
been recorded by Ronnie Dyson, Blue Magic and Main Ingredient,
who inspired Miki to cover the song: ďNo can sing a melody like Cuba Gooding!Ē
Recently, also Regina Belle and Will Downing have recorded their own
versions of the song.
Finally, Mikiís album of classic songs
closes with her updated version of Stargardís funk smash Which Way Is
up, a song which also has a special meaning for Miki: ďThat 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 thatís why I really
wanted to do it.Ē
Personally, the opening and closing songs
are the only tracks I donít care for on this album, but I really enjoyed the
other versions. Iím 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 Mikiís three children are all grown-up (the youngest is seventeen), Miki
can again concentrate on her singing career, and Iím sure that she will record
lots of classics in the years to come Ė not only cover tunes but songs that
people will remember as classics by Miki herself! As Miki herself stated;
ďThere 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!Ē
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: