“Michelle Renée ” – Michelle Renée
Michelle Renée is an American singer-songwriter who has toured as a backing vocalist and keyboard player with The SOS Band and briefly with Peabo Bryson before striking out as a solo artist, performing regularly across the USA. “Michelle Renée” is her debut album, and a quick look at the packaging gives you a pretty good idea what to expect, with its soft-focus model-style photos and glossy lyric booklet.
The album feels like an attempt to showcase Michelle Renée as an artist in her own right, rather than a batch of great songs that were just begging to be released. There’s nothing to take exception to on the album, but it’s also fair to say there’s nothing that I could remember a couple of days after hearing it. The playing and singing is of the highest quality throughout but, with a few exceptions, nothing really catches fire, and the same applies to the lyrics; nothing sounds clunky or out of place, but you won’t find any fascinating insights or epiphanies here.
The highlights are: “Fly Away” which is fairly lightweight, but has a soaring chorus; “If I Say I love You” with layers of keyboards and tasteful acoustic guitar and Michelle’s cover of John Legend’s “Ordinary People”. The mid-tempo opener “Heaven”, with its funky, clipped guitar and 90s feel and “Say” with its bubbling fretless bass and wah-wah guitar both have a strong Anita Baker influence while “Mamacita” is pure 1980s (just think Irene Cara) and “Ooh La Love” sounds a lot like mid-70s solo Lamont Dozier.
The single “Missing You” (written by album collaborator Rodney Shelton) features some tasteful acoustic guitar, “Gypsy Girl” is the obligatory bad girl song and “Love of my Life” is driven along on 80s percussion and a hook appropriated from “You Only Live Twice”. Which brings us to “Time for Kama”, the album’s attempt at disco erotica. Apart from the laboured play on words of “karma” and “Kama Sutra”, which might have got a snigger from third formers at Cheltenham Ladies College in 1970, it’s just far too polite to be sexy; Millie Jackson it isn’t but it might just get a play on a SAGA swingers night.
“Time for Kama” apart, there’s not a lot to actively dislike about this album; the songs are ok, the vocals are assured and the playing is impeccable (there’s even a guest appearance from the legendary bass player Willie Weeks) but there’s nothing that would make me want to listen to the album again. It’s possible that some of these songs could pick up a bit of radio airplay on Heart or Smooth but, other than that, it’s difficult to see where it’s going to succeed in the UK.
Out Monday July 28 on Yelloweed Records (Yell444).