Alexis Houston - Life Lessons (2010)

Alexis Houston
Alexis_Houston_Life_Lessons.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Once upon a time, New Jersey native Alexis Houston found herself torn between two career choices: medicine and music. The fact that you're reading this review means that she chose the latter, but that doesn't mean her innate warmth and the healing qualities fail to come across in her spirited debut, Speak Love - Life Lessons.  

Once upon a time, New Jersey native Alexis Houston found herself torn between two career choices: medicine and music. The fact that you're reading this review means that she chose the latter, but that doesn't mean her innate warmth and the healing qualities fail to come across in her spirited debut, Speak Love - Life Lessons.  

A lot of today's emerging artists seem to be running neck-in-neck in a warped competition to see who can out-dramatize the other, thanks to songs rueing their broken hearts, broken leases, or even having to break someone's windshield. Angst has its place, no doubt, but thankfully, the 26-year-old Ms. Houston is quite the opposite, channeling her truths into lyrics that speak both to the lighter and darker moments in life. Co-writing at least ten of the selections allows her to express her true self with abandon, spilling her soul in retro, synth-anchored grooves like "Ready Now," "Little Things" and the peppy, created-for-the-club song, "Bringin' My Love to You."

Blessed with a sweet and saucy soprano that's been cultivated from her tender church choir years, Ms. Houston (who's no relation to Whitney but embodies her influence and benefited from her mother's tutelage) has an enviable four and a half octave range that's afforded a full workout, thanks to skilled producers like Jake Ridley (Christina Aguilera), Ivan & Carvin (Musiq Soulchild) and Gregg Pagani, who both co-wrote and anchored the lyrics with musical backdrops that complement her range. She recalls Whitney most strongly  in the beguiling "Speak Love," where she stretches tender pillow talk into a "ride of ecstasy" without becoming tawdry or explicit. "Music Man" has a lush, tropical feel, as she tries to lure a broken-hearted man back into her arms, while the jazz-flavored "Life Lessons" meditates on the passions and pains (such as the passing of her father) that have shaped her into the woman she is today.

Although she leans toward the intimate rather than the angst-filled, Ms. Houston does display multiple facets vocally and subject-wise: "Actions," the CD's neck-rolling "we're through" number, is sung with such fiery conviction that one can practically envisioning her pacing the carpet and packing suitcases: "I'm not blaming you, so please don't get me wrong/ I knew about your situation, all along." "Inside" isn't about her feelings, but a third person narrative that follows the struggles of two young people tumbling down crooked paths in life: "...too caught up in his own pipe dreams to know it's not a joke/with every breath he takes, his dreams go up in smoke."  

Like any other debut, Speak Love....has its awkward moments: a couple of tracks become so chaotic that they almost overwhelm Ms. Houston (like the dance version of "Change"), stripping them of sincerity and focus. The ballads often melt into trippy club tracks, and the sequencing feels...well... random. However, Ms. Houston's talents to soothe body and soul, even without that lab coat, are too abundant to overlook, so her career choice is a valid one indeed. Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
Video of the Month - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Choice Cut - Chris Jasper - "Have I Told You Lately"
Song of the Month - Tracy Cruz - "Your Love's Everything"

Leave a comment!