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Soul Express CD Review

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Better Days
US DMH Music 2009 CD, 2009
1) Free
2) You've Got to Let Go
3) Better Days
4) Good Morning Heartache
5) You Are the One
6) Use Me
7) Last Kiss Goodnight
8) Yesterdays
9) No Regrets
10) Until You Come Back to Me
11) At Last

We had an exclusive Soul Express interview with Tracy Hamlin back in 2003, when she had just sung two songs on the Pieces of a Dream album Love's Silhouette. Since then Tracy has started her solo career, and this is her second solo album.

If you own her classy debut solo set Seasons, the new album is a safe buy since it virtually repeats the formula of her first album. Thus, we again have a Bill Withers cover song (this time Use Me), some rootsy soul performances (like Until You Come Back to Me) in the 70s soul vein, plus several jazz-tinged quality soul tunes, featuring excellent musicians.

Tracy is deliberatly trying to avoid being labeled as a "jazz singer", so as she mentioned in her interview, she performs various music styles and genres, and does not restrict to any one type of music. Still, there is no denying that her best performances are jazz interpretations. Tracy's most celebrated recording is her mind-blowing version of My Funny Valentine, which she sung on the afore-mentioned Pieces of a Dream CD. Here she performs another oft-covered jazz classic Good Morning Heartache (originally sung by Billie Holiday, and I cannot help admiring how easily Tracy manages to make a very unique and personal interpretation of the song with her heavenly soprano vocalising. The musical atmoshphere of the song is utterly stylish, too, highlighted by Melvin Jones' superb trumpet soloing over the delicate piano based backdrop. Sheer class from the first second to the last.

The title track Better Days is another great personal favourite. The song is written by Tracy herself together with drummer / keyboardist James "PJ" Spraggings, and with Kelley O'Neal on soprano saxophone - playing like Grover Washington Jr. - the track sounds a lot like a first class Pieces of a Dream recording.

On the other hand, Tracy proves her versality as a singer by delivering rootsy versions of Aretha's bravura Until You Come Back to Me (written by Stevie Wonder) and the standard At Last, which comes as a bonus track at the end of the CD. Obviously Tracy has been performing the song live in her concerts, since the track is added on the album "by special request of her fans". Kelly O'Neal again blows the sax on the song, and Tracy is really in her element while giving the song her own unique approach.

The rest of the tracks have a more modern musical setting, with sometimes also programmed rhythms, but always flavoured by real instruments like piano, bass, guitar or saxophone. The songs are new and mostly self-written by Tracy, and the overall level remains constantly above average. You've Got to Let Go and No Regrets are especially worth a mention, and they demonstrate that Tracy is not only able to deliver superb versions of classic tunes but also create fine new music. Highly recommended.
-Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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