Yelloweed [Released 14.07.14]
Ideally you need a great voice and equally good material to make the transition from being a backing singer to establishing a solo career. Michelle Renee undoubtedly has a sultry voice, but her choice of material from syrupy soul, contemporary r&b, sensual disco, Latino percussive grooves and an occasional ballad, all glued together by an overly slick production, makes for some anodyne listening
It doesn’t start out that way, because for all its middle of the road feel ‘Heaven’ has a sufficiently uplifting hook to interest day time radio, while the percussive funk of ‘Mamacita’ aims to be a dance floor hit, right down to the hand claps.
The Rodney Shelton co-write ‘Gypsy Girl’ is as clichéd as the title suggests: ‘Restless like a smoking gun, I’m telling you she’s born to run’. And then there’s the harmony drenched ‘Time for Kama’ (sic). The pun presumably being on Kama Sutra, as she groans and whispers her way through a funky disco beat, with imperious backing vocals, sparkling percussion and cringe worthy lyrics: ‘Been A Good Girl for so long, paid my dues now its time for play’.
Still, there’s no denying the ‘sweeping ‘Ah Yeah, Ah yeah’ refrain which gives the song a hypnotic feel. There’s also a 70’s disco feel to be found on ‘Ooh La Love’ which is excellent but sounds like its been recorded a zillion years too late.
This album is full of meticulously produced formulaic music that tries too hard to adhere to an existing template. You could image ‘Time for Kama’ being a Euro pop hit in the slip stream of Amanda Lear for example, and given her musical experience in Germany, maybe she knows more about that market than most.
‘Missing You’ is contemporary r&b with the usual; ‘I’m just going crazy without you baby’ sentiment, while ‘Stay’ is built around another uplifting hook on which her vocal soars impressively over angelic bv’s that wouldn’t be out of place on a Michael Jackson record.
Michelle is a decent song writer with a commercial bent, but she’s aiming for a crowded market place and this album will sink or swim on the back of a plugger’s ability to get it noticed.
There’s not a huge difference between her own songs and the collaborations with keyboard player Rodney Shelton, on numbers such as ‘If I Say I Love You’. Again it’s a superbly played track with a crisp acoustic guitar line, nuanced percussion and sultry bv’s and might slot into one of those late night radio slots.
Her cover of John Legend’s ’Ordinary People’ substitutes a lush production for the minimalist original. It works well enough, but subjugates the song’s original emotional bite.
Michelle finishes several tracks worth of breathy yearning with a defining ballad, ‘Love of My Life. It’s a suitably big production finish with an enveloping melodic sweep (check out the harp strings) and backing vocals but at least she sounds like she’s finally content. ***
Review by Pete Feenstra
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