An alumni of Morgan State's world renown music program, Maysa's been a difficult singer to pigeonhole since her 1992 Incognito debut, with a repertoire inclusive of jazz, funk, soul, house and even opera, just give this lady a mic and classics are born. Regardless of what she sings or who's behind the engineering console, from the first bar listeners immediately know her warm, unmistakable tone. Whether on the Commodores' "Zoom," Atlantic Starr's "Send for Me" or the oft-covered title track, Maysa doesn't disappoint, bringing her moody, understated approach to these well-known classics. Unlike some of Maysa's best known melancholy tunes, the mood here is satin sheets and chilled champagne rather than tissues and shot glasses.
The song choices on Feel The Fire are inspired, as Maysa was in love with her self-described "long lost prince charming" during the recording of this work, and it shows. When she deftly scats and coos about how she "Can't Help It" on the Stevie Wonder penned M.J. classic, you believe her. Norman Connors' "You Are My Starship" finds Maysa on love's astral planes in voice and emotion, taking flight on rare soprano notes against Dave Mann's soothing sax in this spacious groove. To avoid the monotony that's always close to threatening Maysa's albums, she provides listeners three cool mid-to-up-tempo jams with Maze's "Happy Feelings," Evelyn Champagne King's "I'm In Love" and The Emotions' kick-up your heels, horn-blaring extravaganza "I Don't Want To Lose Your Love." While each tune has impressive, finger-wagging moments, admittedly none comes musically close to Maysa's powerful slam-dunks on Stevie Wonder's "All I Do" and Rufus's "Any Love" from her first Sweet Classic Soul set. That said, these snappy covers nicely fit the album's theme and seductive feel, thanks to producer Chris "Big Dog" Davis's polished production work throughout Feel The Fire.
The showstopper of the album, however, is Maysa's airy, matter-of-fact rendering of Angela Bofill's ballad "This Time I'll Be Sweeter." While Angela's belting version is a teary-eyed plea for her lover's understanding, Maysa's measured delivery is mature and elegant in its flourish and tender in its promise. The subtle, heartfelt passion in Maysa's voice makes you wonder whether it was recorded when her fairytale relationship to her "prince who became a frog" was ending. By the close of the album, Maysa's loveless and unsentimental about it in her clear-eyed blues cover of Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine." Here, she allows Davis's intricate production and Rhon Lawrence's notable guitar work to cry a river for her. Unfortunately, by the end of this moving set, Maysa's alone and spent, once again our elegiac soul chanteuse. After one listen, devoted fans will be grateful Maysa was gracious enough to bring us along her naked journey through both the happy feelings and cooling embers of love.
By L. Michael Gipson