Honey Larochelle - The Yes Feeling (2013)

Honey Larochelle
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The answer is definitely “yes” to these fourteen tracks of feel good. From the deep funk of “Dear John” to the classic hip hop soul of “Be Your Baby,” Honey LaRochelle is out to win. Fresh off her 2011 debut, Clean Lust and Dirty Laundry, LaRochelle puts a firm stiletto in the dreaded sophomore curse. She shakes away the cobwebs of winter just in time for spring, with youthful energy and verve to spare. This is top-down weather music for still far too chilly times. Through it all, LaRochelle brings the fun with a lightness of spirit but fullness of voice that should delight newcomers and long timers alike. Her mastery as a performer mostly convinces, but at times there’s a notable lack of vulnerability that keeps these spit-shined proceedings from delivering the consistent emotional gut-punches this voice sometimes proves capable of landing.

The answer is definitely “yes” to these fourteen tracks of feel good. From the deep funk of “Dear John” to the classic hip hop soul of “Be Your Baby,” Honey LaRochelle is out to win. Fresh off her 2011 debut, Clean Lust and Dirty Laundry, LaRochelle puts a firm stiletto in the dreaded sophomore curse. She shakes away the cobwebs of winter just in time for spring, with youthful energy and verve to spare. This is top-down weather music for still far too chilly times. Through it all, LaRochelle brings the fun with a lightness of spirit but fullness of voice that should delight newcomers and long timers alike. Her mastery as a performer mostly convinces, but at times there’s a notable lack of vulnerability that keeps these spit-shined proceedings from delivering the consistent emotional gut-punches this voice sometimes proves capable of landing.

The Vancouver-born, Southern bred, NYC dwelling singer/songwriter, arranger and former background singer for some of the most respected names in the business (including UK King Omar, Macy Gray, and the legendary Brand New Heavies), is no newcomer to the industry. Moreover, LaRochelle is a protégé of the iconic Roberta Flack. Following her critically acclaimed Clean Lust and Dirty Laundry, LaRochelle brings the weight of her impressive experiences with such revered recording artists to good use on an album as mature as it is devil-may-care. With a strong alto sweetened by whispery highs and emotional riffs punctuating the end of many of these live music studio orchestrations, the always professional LaRochelle demonstrates time-honed control of her instrument while still appearing to relinquish that control with vocal wizardry when the emotionalism of the song calls for stripping bare, as with the sweetheart ballad “The One That Got Away.”

Lyrically, the love and relationship storytelling is generally kept as light and catchy as the energy, so that even when LaRochelle is singing about heartbreak or complexities of grown up love, these passionately sung songs only occasionally achieve the soulful pathos of the blues. Where there is plenty of beautiful skill and artistry on display, LaRochelle’s performances aren’t always digging down to that cathartic sweet spot of sincerity reflective of some of the pain and truths she writes. When she does it, as on the breathtaking close of “Who’s Gonna Love You” and in her “gettin’ ugly” on “Hey Love,” you can tell LaRochelle only comes close with the kiss-off on the fatback funk of “Dear John.” Still, the learned stylist is such a bare-knuckled mistress on that greasy jam you almost don’t care that you can see the strings in her stagecraft.

Like some of the best hip-hop soul artists around, the independent LaRochelle masters confidence, braggadocio, and the good time face in anthems like “Canadian Girl,” where every lyric of that aspirational cut is sung with a truthful conviction. Yet, you can hear her hard knocks Brooklyn education keeping up LaRochelle’s guarded mystique on a love letter like “The Yes Feeling,” where high notes and runs are substituted for guts. Even while appreciating what’s on the pulp of a page-turner, you can just hear there’s another level the author is leaving uncovered. And in soul, that uncovering is everything. Sometimes LaRochelle reveals and sometimes she doesn’t, but she’ll smile charmingly while not doing so.

Sonically, the consistently cohesive album is lush with live instrumentation and expensive-sounding production elements. While there are undeniable flares of ‘60s retro soul and doo-wop lighting the album on valentines like “Who’s Gonna Love You” and the swinging “Fight For Him,” penning LaRochelle as a derivative yesteryear artist isn’t a fitting label. Few of the melody lines and vocal productions follow the conventions of that golden era. Performances like the horn and harmonies plush “Back of My Car” are more along the lines of Yahzarah or a latter day Chaka Khan vocal tracks lain over Brill Building music; nostalgic but still very much in the now. More than a soul belter, on moodier R&B smashes like “Heaven,” she and her killing supporting vocals are harmonizing like The Emotions against a wash of strings and electric bass. Further, there are very modern radio-ready tracks like “Hey Love” and reggae painted mid-tempos like “One, 2, Three” that keep listeners from cornering LaRochelle into any particular era or comparison. In her sampling lots of different musical traditions, LaRochelle enjoys the freedom that only seasoned talent and experience affords.

Throughout The Yes Feeling, that talent is never less than impressive. Adroitly keeping pace with power-driving organ and percussion jumping jamborees like “Fight for Him,” the box-fighting LaRochelle rides a melody line with an ease of stamina that would leave a lesser talent coughing for breath. With assured vocals, accompanied by ace musicians that could give the Dap Kings a run for their money, Honey LaRochelle’s second time at the free throw line is “all net.” Not a bad way to put that heeled foot all up in that sophomore curse’s back. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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