on February 13, 2014
A lot has been said about Melinda Doolittle's time on "American Idol".....that she should have made the finale, that she should have won, that she was robbed...! While I do agree that she should have won season six, I also believe that both Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis have proven themselves to be serious and lasting talents, so let's put the past in the past and move on.
That said, the big question now is....why isn't Melinda Doolittle a superstar?!? Hands down one of the most talented "Idol" alums, this woman should be a megastar! You could argue that personality has a lot to do with it, that she's just too nice to make it in the industry, but I'm not buying that....look at Ellen DeGeneres.
No, I think it boils down to needing to be a bit more aggressive. Doolittle seems to have a "Whatever happens, happens" attitude/approach, which just doesn't work in today's market. If the major labels aren't coming to her, she needs to go to them. If the top producers aren't knocking on her door, she's got to rap on the windows. If the best songwriters aren't offering up their talents, she's got to make that call.
Her sophomore effort is a good example of this. While YOU'RE THE REASON is a joy to listen to ~ Doolittle sounds amazing throughout! ~ the disc just leaves you wanting....more. (Part of this is the format's fault....EP's can be a dicey prospect, given their shorter length....basically, every cut has to be a masterpiece!).
I also think she needs to stretch herself a bit more. While a lot of people have put her in the straight classic Soul diva mold (ala Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight), I think there's so much more that she's capable of....visions of Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole and (especially!) Ruth Pointer keep dancing in my head, as I see Doolittle more emphatically embracing her rock, pop and jazz sides. (Heck, I can even picture a little Audra McDonald and Broadway in the mix!). Lord knows, the woman has the chops to do it!
But back to YOU'RE THE REASON. The disc opens with the lovely (and at times heart-breaking)"Never Giving Up." Doolittle's sterling lead vocal dances over the percussion-and-piano driven arrangement. There's a steeliness AND a vulnerability here that is just captivating (That said, my heart breaks every time I hear her sing the lines "I'm beautiful/No matter what they tell me"). A really, really nice way to kick things off.
I also really like "Without You", what with it's soaring lead vocal, layered backing vocals and high energy arrangement. But as good as the track is, there's also a tentativeness to it....it seems as if Doolittle wants to jump into the rock & roll pool, but instead feels (or has been told) that she can only stick her toe in the shallow end. An 8 that could have been an 11, this track proves she's a natural, more than hinting at a direction she would be wise to persue.
The disc's title track has a joyous retro soul groove to it that just makes the listener feel good (I particularly love the scratchy vinyl effect!). Doolittle's lead vocal is rich and full-bodied, gutsy and powerful, but never, ever over the top. And, once again, the backing vocals totally complement the lead (You can tell Doolittle is a former backing vocalist...her arranging skills are spot-on!). All in all, an absolute treat.
The same can be said about "Give", but for different reasons. There's a timeless feeling to the arrangement, both in the hushed moments and the sweeping ones. Doolittle's lead vocal both soothes and soars ~ there's some SERIOUS power here, as well as some AMAZING control! Toss in thoughtful lyrics ("Everybody's reaching for something/Every day, pulling and tugging/Always wanting a little more/Holding on to hurt like an anchor") and you have a song that, say, Natalie Cole would kill for! Another winner.
"I Believe In Love" is a thing of beauty, particularly the opening bars. Accompanied only by Tre' Corley's tasteful, yet eloquent, piano, Doolittle's stunning lead vocal weaves it's way around the melody. However, where most of today's singers would end up blasting it out by the end of the second verse, beginning of the third (gotta show off those runs!!), Doolittle holds back, letting the melody and instrumentation and EMOTION speak for themselves...and shine. Lovely.
Oft times the problem with putting a second version of a song on an album, particularly an EP, is that it leaves you wondering "Why?" Is it filler? Is it it meant to make the album look/seem longer? Did they run out of money? Did it rob the place of another new song? In the case of the extended version of "You're The Reason", it just made me think of all the things Doolittle could have done....a little scat, a semi-spoken interlude, etc. O.K., but I would have preferred an additional new track.
Closing things out is "Home", a beautiful slice of movie/showtime magic. Everything just works here...the regal strings, the gorgeous lead vocal, the snapping fingers over the first verse....it all just BLENDS. And that, my friends, is a testament to the power and talent of Melinda Doolittle....in most cases, a song like this would stand out like a sore thumb. In her capable hands, however, it just sparkles. Wow....just....wow!
So, where does Melinda Doolittle go from here? She's proven time and time again she's got talent, and YOU'RE THE REASON just reinforces that theory. But in today's industry, that's just not enough.
Now, she needs to play with the big boys and girls. I'd like to see her writing with everyone from Alicia Keys and Pink to Sheryl Crow and Mary J. Blige. And I still want to see her do a duet with Michael Johns! I'd also love to see her work with producers as diverse (and strong) as Rick Rubin, Prince, David Foster, Pharell Williams, Matt Serlatec and Wendy & Lisa. This is an artist who has yet to paint her masterpiece.....thing is, to do that, she's going to have to use her full palette. I've often said that if I was ever in the position, I would sign Melinda Doolittle in a heartbeat, then do everything in my power to make her a star. Here's hoping someone beats me to the punch! (As with all my reviews, I'm docking the disc half a star for not including the lyrics).
Melinda's "Coming Back to You" 2009 CD after her American Idol third place showing yielded three #1 songs in my personal top ten, a rare feat from one CD, "Dust My Broom," "Walin' Blues" and "Fundamental Things." "You're the Reason" is her next release after several mp3 tracks. The sound is quite different, smoother, less blues, more expansive pop. When I first listened, it was so different than "Coming Back to You," that I felt disappointed. I listened again and warmed to her sound. Now I spin it only to find that Melina Doolittle magic casts a gorgeous sonic spell. The opener "Never Giving Up" is an anthem to positive romantic thinking, "Even if the fall leaves me broken, even if you tell me it's hopeless, I'm never giving up." It's superb! Just as wonderful, "Give" has a lovely lush string background, "Holding onto hurt like an anchor, treating those you love like a stranger, taking names & keeping score, we all know what we're really after." The title track laces Melinda's expressive vocals over a dance beat, "The only one I see is you, babe." The track "Home" amazes me as Melinda's vocals stun the listener with her range, emotional reach and phrasing. Melinda Doolittle is truly a talented singer, well worth exploring on this gorgeous EP! Enjoy!