Estelle - True Romance

Estelle
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It’s easy to understand why Estelle is a vocalist who appeals to a variety of producers and collaborators. Her voice is very pliable, meaning she can move easily from hip-hop styled spoken word numbers to power ballads to traditional R&B pieces. She’s not a singer who is going to seek to hog to the mic or go all Patti LaBelle on you.

On True Romance, we see the strengths and limitations of Estelle’s vocal style. On the whole, True Romance is a solid, well balanced effort that features up-tempo dance numbers, spirit-affirming pop ballads, such as “Conqueror,” 60s girl group inspired R&B tracks such as “Silly Girls” and even a little something that will make the strip club crowd happy (and Mike Huckabee’s head explode) with the percussive “Make Her Say (Beat It Up).” See, a little something for everybody.

It’s easy to understand why Estelle is a vocalist who appeals to a variety of producers and collaborators. Her voice is very pliable, meaning she can move easily from hip-hop styled spoken word numbers to power ballads to traditional R&B pieces. She’s not a singer who is going to seek to hog to the mic or go all Patti LaBelle on you.

On True Romance, we see the strengths and limitations of Estelle’s vocal style. On the whole, True Romance is a solid, well balanced effort that features up-tempo dance numbers, spirit-affirming pop ballads, such as “Conqueror,” 60s girl group inspired R&B tracks such as “Silly Girls” and even a little something that will make the strip club crowd happy (and Mike Huckabee’s head explode) with the percussive “Make Her Say (Beat It Up).” See, a little something for everybody.

Here’s the small but noticeable issue: Estelle is a singer who needs to be pushed by her producers because that pleasing and pliable voice can become a little too middle-of-the-road-ish. Take the two more “adult” tracks on True Romance – the aforementioned “Make Her Say” and “Time Share (Suite 509).” The former is a spoken word piece that finds Estelle adopting a breathy, come hither voice in which she invites her man to take her from point A to point ecstasy. The song is a percussive number that features Afro-Caribbean styled vocalizations and chant as the artist delivers the money line  during the hook, and Estelle is clearly having fun on an energetic and spicy number that will have plenty of folks cover their kids’ ears when they aren’t busy trying to cover their own. “Time Share” is a contemporary R&B/hip-hop track that tells the story of a couple that engages in an intense session of love making during their stint in a timeshare. Estelle’s efforts to deliver her vocals in that rapid fire rap infused style come off as uninspired, even as the spoken word artist with whom she shared the mic is on-point with his rhyme and his flow.

The singer finds her footing on tracks such as the lush, 60’s styled “Silly Girls,” the mid-tempo ballad “Gotcha Love, and the sweet piano and voice love lullaby “All That Matters.” “Silly Girls,” with its Motown styled bass line swelling backing vocals finds Estelle delivering a vocal performance where her emotions swing from vulnerable to determine in a track sporting a narrative of a woman weighing her mother’s advice to go slow on affairs of the heart against the dictates of her heart.

“Gotcha Love” and “All That Matters” coax strong vocal performances from the singer by taking the opposite tack of laying down a simple straight forward arrangements. The former is propelled by jazz infused piano and simple bass line and ephemeral backing vocals while the latter finds Estelle being backed only by a piano. With all of the other bells and whistles gone, listeners hear the sweetness in the artist’s vocals and her true strong suit – songwriting (Estelle wrote or co-wrote all 11 tracks on True Romance).

Those three cuts are example of the type of strong song writing that is a constant throughout True Romance and can even be heard on the dance track “Something Good/Devotion.” That track features gospel piano chords, New Orleans styled shuffle march drums some energized vocals by Estelle to create a work of self-affirmation and discovery that is more pleasing than the middle of the road anthem “Conqueror,” which of course is the song that got picked up by radio.

So while there are inconsistencies in the vocals heard on True Romance, the constants of strong songwriting production values more than compensate. It is not essential music, but at its high points it shows the considerable talent that Estelle brings to the game. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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