Deborah Cox - The Promise (2009)

Deborah Cox
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When a vocalist receives a blessing from recording mastermind Clive Davis, he or she is usually on pace to make noise on the music scene for years to come.  Davis had an undisputable reputation for either discovering upcoming talent or rediscovering stars.    Alicia Keys has blazed several hits since her dramatic 2001 debut single "Fallin'," for which she won a Best New Artist at the Grammys.

And after Luther Vandross's lengthy career with Epic, the end of which showed a significant drop in sales, Davis signed the R&B legend to his custom BMG label J, successfully rescusitating Vandross's career with hits like "Take You Out" and his posthumous smash, "Dance With My Father." The same goes with the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, whose "Freeway of Love" and other smash songs on Arista Records kickstarted another phase of her career.   Certainly one of Davis's biggest urban signees - R&B/pop megastar Whitney Houston - cranked out a string of continual hits from the mid-eighties until just a few years back.  Houston was just a teenager when she joined the Arista Records roster, as was former Celine Dion background vocalist, Deborah Cox. 

Once signed to Arista in 1993, the Canadian-born songstress's career was off to an impressive start with a series of hits that landed on the R&B and dance charts: "Sentimental,"  "Who Do U Love," and arguably her biggest contribution, "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here."  The hit making pace, however, considerably slowed down - at least on the R&B side - by the end of the nineties, and continued after her 2002 dance-infected The Morning After, the last release from Davis's family of labels.  Cox then changed musical courses for awhile to concentrate on musical theatre, movie soundtracks, and to record a tribute in 2007 to one of her idols, Dinah Washington.  Her latest, "The Promise," marks her return to the adult contemporary R&B market where she first earned her musical stripes.

Cox still sings from her belly and her heart on about half the disc's contents.   "You Know Where My Heart Is," produced by John Legend associate Devo Springsteen, hearkens back to some of those engaging ladies vocal groups of the seventies such as Three Degrees and The Emotions.  Legend is on board as accompanist on the disc's touching title track, resulting in a charming piano and voice match-up.  The first single, "Did You Ever Love Me," and "All Hearts Aren't Shaped The Same" find Cox exerting the same vocal energy that stamped "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" and other memorable nineties hits.  Finally, "Where Do We Go 2," with that eery hook from Prince's "Little Red Corvette," suits Cox's tremulous vocal effects in adding tension to a song about the roller-coaster love relationship.

There are some blemishes on "The Promise" as well, where Cox seems to be quite hesitant to pull out all the stops when necessary.  One example is the thumping dance track "Beautiful U R, " quite a letdown considering her excellent reputation with the dance club community.  A bigger problem is the occasionally odd song selection.  Two tracks that stick out are an awkward attempt to recreate Janet Jackson breathy slow sensual jams ("All Over Me") and a smothering set of Timberland type rhythms ("Down 4 U") that almost suffocate the lead and background vocals altogether. 

Summing up"The Promise," it's a mixed bag because of the aforementioned, and sadly her two singles so far have not come close to her track record with Davis's record labels.  Even with stellar chart support from her native Canada and her loyal underground fan base, "The Promise" is also her lowest selling to date.  It is ironic that this is happening at the time when Clive Davis protege Keys has remained on the top of her game and Whitney is successfully mounting a comeback.  Cox's voice is still worthy, cutting like a knife and arousing emotions.   Yet somehow she still needs to gather more ammunition in gaining her groove back that captured both Davis's initial interest and sophisticated R&B audiences initial attention.

By Peggy Oliver

 
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