Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Not Too Late To Phone In Your Support...

A few years after her third place showing on American Idol, former background singer Melinda Doolittle finally finally finally releases her debut album Coming Back To You. Anyone who watched in pain as Doolittle lost out to beatboxing Blake Lewis and teen spirit Jordan Sparks knows what to expect: Soulful vocals with power and feeling, "in the pocket" as Paula Abdul used to say and a whole lotta Gladys Knight. Despite these qualities, Doolittle lacked the youthful appeal that her competitors had which led to her dismissal in spite of her never giving a bad performance. If I remember right, Cowell often derided her for seeming "old" and "too nice".

Doolittle's other strike against her was her taste for old school R&B. The 60's and 70's rhythm and blues scene is her zone as Randy "Dawg" Jackson would put it. Coming Back to You plays straight to her strength - the arrangements and songs would have easily fit on any mid 70's soul disc. Hardly any electronic effects, the instrumentation is basic drums /bass/guitar/piano set up accented by pumping horns, ringing bells and swirling strings. Even with the wave of retro soul out there, no one's gonna confuse Doolittle with Amy Winehouse.

Being caught in a time warp can be a bad thing, yet if you accept that's what you're going to get it's not too bad. The songs are solid though unspectacular. Doolittle has snazzy bits of sleek soul (the title track), nice ballads ("The Best of Everything"), upbeat pre disco dance jams ("Declaration of Love") and orchestral prettiness ("I'll Never Stop Loving You"). Through it all, Doolittle does exactly what she did on the show - hit her marks with unerring accuracy. She can still tell a story with masterful pacing and range.

Simon Cowell is probably happy Doolittle didn't win the show, she lacks the charismatic Wow factor he's looking for. The benefit a win would have given her would probably be a more sizeable budget for production and marketing. The album feels slightly constricted and thin in terms of sound quality. But given a choice between a cheap disc and no disc, the former is preferable. So she won't sell as many CDs or downloads as Jordan Sparks, so what? Melinda Doolittle remains a consistent and talented performer that knows what works for her and works it well.

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