Sometimes, it pays to open your email. My most pleasant surprise so far this year was hearing in January from Louise Perryman, a gifted pop/soul vocalist from Australia who is getting some attention in Soul Music circles due to her new release, Whisper My Name. Perryman has been labeled "The white woman with the black voice." Well, I don't know what color she sounds like, but it's one that I like. From the moment I put Whisper in my CD player, her deep, husky alto wrapped itself around song (and me) and didn't let go. Perryman's voice is most often compared to Anita Baker, and there is truth to that comparison. I think a closer match may be Kathy Troccoli, another underrated deep-voiced singer, though Perryman's delivery and material are richer and much more soulful.
Perryman began as a viola player and studied at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in Southern Australia. Though afterward she took a job in business, she continued to pursue her musical dreams in the evening and worked to develop her songwriting skills. She ultimately moved to Sydney to focus on music full time. Her first release was 1999's Come on-a My House, followed by 2000's Nowhere Near Eleven, an acoustic CD, and The Painter and the Bird, an album of covers.
Though it is her fourth album, Whisper My Name should finally introduce this talented artist to Soul Music audiences around the world. Beginning with the midtempo title track, Whisper is like a great trip back to the sophisticated pop/soul of the mid to late 80s, the "nouveau soul" period that brought us great acts from Anita Baker to Everything But the Girl and a period where pop, soul and smooth jazz could co-exist in an amalgamated form. It is nearly impossible to find a recent disc that attempts to straddle the adult pop/soul border, much less one that handles it as effectively as Whisper. It is a true throwback -- a late night album for adults that relies more on melodies and expressive vocal performance than on attitude or studio trickery.
For Whisper, Perryman has brought together a crack band of local Australian musicians who provide a solid but restrained backdrop for her vocal performance. She also proves herself a fine songwriter, co-penning all eight songs. Best of all, though talent surrounds Perryman on the disc, the centerpiece remains where it should -- her wonderful, clear voice.
At just over 42 minutes, Whisper is a bit short, but it has no filler and has a number of high points. "Play Your Game" is a worthy successor to Baker's "Talk To Me," and, along with the title cut, may be the album's most soulful number. Much of the disc features more adult pop oriented tracks, including the ballads "Stay" and "Prayer For You," both nice cuts that are made better by Perryman's performance. And the 7-minute smoky ballad "This Is Heaven" feels like a live, 2 a.m. nightclub performance.
I truly hope that there is an audience for Whisper My Name. At a time when the apparently simple combination of great tunes, restrained arrangements and a clear strong voice seems an anomaly, it is a very welcome anomaly, and one that I can highly recommend to lovers of classy, melodic soul music.
By Chris Rizik