As a whole, the state of Texas is richly diverse in musical history, including gospel and blues. It is a bit surprising, however, that the city of Houston's major contributions to soul & R&B are few and far between -- though there are some notable vocalists and innovators. Pianist/vocalist Amos Milburn, who was a pioneer of jump blues and swing in the forties, was influential in the careers of Fats Domino and Floyd Dixon. Archie Bell & The Drells' fairly impressive run, including their funk-dripping 1968 hit "Tighten Up," grabbed radio listeners attention on pop and soul charts for a decade. When R&B's boy bands ruled the roost in the eighties and nineties, such as Jodeci & Boyz II Men, vocal trio H-Town brought their sexual swagger with "Knockin' Da' Boots" and similar fare for hip-hop impresario Luke Campbell's Luke Skywalker moniker. From that point, the ladies then took the baton with Destiny's Child, followed by their two solo members - Beyonce and Kelly Rowland - dominating the urban charts up through the present.
Another female voice, sadly untapped on a national level, Caretta Bell, has been a key figure in the Houston underground soul movement, along with â€˜FunkyFunkSoul' producer K'Monte' and hip-hop/neo-soul vocalist Michelle Thibeaux. Bell's debut, Love's Eye View, a brilliant showcase for her durable four-octave voice, reveals different moods surrounding love's complicated scenarios.
In several internet interviews, Bell insists Love's Eye View is all R&B. The CD's contents prove otherwise featuring a pleasing appetite of hip-hop, blues, neo-soul, and acoustic folk thrown in for good measure. Starting with the sassy acappella microphone check "Wednesday May 12th," Bell asserts her diva side in handling her business on the subject of love. "Foolish Me" is a jazz-infused ode about the regrets and what ifs in relationships. The first single, "Breath of Fresh Air," echoes the days of Soul II Soul and other eighties smooth dance soul favorites. Dedicated clubbers should feed off "Dance," which unleashes the talk box courtesy of eighties' funk phenomenon - Roger Troutman and Zapp. "Unconditional," mixing dance with neo-soul flair, speaks about love without always having expectations. The soaring ballad, "How Do I Love Thee," could possibly go toe-to-toe with Alycia Keys' finest dynamic moments - i.e. "Superwoman" and "Falling." The frosting on the cake belongs to the hidden bonus track - a warm acoustic duet with guitarist Robert Barreros.
Frankly, I am extremely finicky when it concerns loving every track on most discs, even if it is from an artist whose body of work I deeply respect. Love's Eye View is one of those exceptions. Her Houston-based underground soul family, from producer K'Monte's bouncy and crisp beats to Thibadoux's subtle beat box on Dance, enhance the production side. And Bell's heftier vocal substance is more captivating compared to most of what is acceptable in today's urban industry - i.e. Rihanna & Akon.
It will probably take time and receptive major record distributors to give this experienced songbird an opportunity to find an audience beyond her regional territory. Yet Bell's talent is more than worthy of joining the small list of Houston's national hitmakers. She is an artist who deserves to be heard.
By Peggy Oliver