Maria Howell - Soul

Maria Howell
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Singer, actress, entrepreneur; the name Maria Howell may not spark instant recognition, but trust me when I say that you've already experienced her talents. If you've seen The Color Purple and remember the piercing soloist from the 'prodigical daughter' church scene ("If I were you I'd say yes..."), then you've heard her sing. And remember that scene from Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls with the pregnant wife chastising her cheating husband ("you better go slut!")? That's her too.  Over the years, this prolific performer has amassed television and film cameos (K'Ville, American Gothic, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles ), an impressive amount of commercial and voiceover work and has opened for the likes of Ray Charles, Philip Bailey and Will Downing. Her vocals have become more resonant and expressive with time, so the title of her fourth release, Soul, is an accurate one.

Singer, actress, entrepreneur; the name Maria Howell may not spark instant recognition, but trust me when I say that you've already experienced her talents. If you've seen The Color Purple and remember the piercing soloist from the 'prodigical daughter' church scene ("If I were you I'd say yes..."), then you've heard her sing. And remember that scene from Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls with the pregnant wife chastising her cheating husband ("you better go slut!")? That's her too.  Over the years, this prolific performer has amassed television and film cameos (K'Ville, American Gothic, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles ), an impressive amount of commercial and voiceover work and has opened for the likes of Ray Charles, Philip Bailey and Will Downing. Her vocals have become more resonant and expressive with time, so the title of her fourth release, Soul, is an accurate one.

It's an impressive artist who can uniquely adapt to and enhance their material, and Ms. Howell is such an artist. Her jazz influence and sense of harmony from her church-choir years enhance numbers like "Optical Illusion" and the mid-tempo "Let You Go." She can oscillate from taut to tender, as displayed in the billowy ballad "Where Do Our Dreams Go," and one can't help but envision a young Diana Ross on the vulnerable, yet vivacious "Last Flight Out." Overall, Ms. Howell possesses a voice that is as dazzling and versatile as her resume, which makes Soul's most obvious flaw---the material---that much more maddening.

There's something to be said about avoiding cookie-cutter tracks that any voice could be super-imposed against (insert any top producer's name here), and all the numbers---written and produced by Bill Bradford--- are serviceable, if not spectacular. "Somethin' You Got" or "Last Flight Out," for example, fit with ease in any adult contemporary format and are easily the standouts. But others, like "Pick n Go" and "Misconstrue," are self-conscious and outdated, like a 1980's LaToya Jackson headband or MC Hammer parachute pants. Another well-meaning misstep, "Eve of Destruction," gets kudos for earnestness, but is just waaaaay too heavy to open a CD with; who wants to hear "Smokestack smoking, orange alert, CO2 for your dessert" while fighting rush hour traffic? That's what I thought.

In a nutshell, Soul saddles an incredible voice with mid-range material; while I mildly recommend it for the handful of gems provided, I wholly endorse perusing her previous releases to enjoy her undeniable gift of song.

By Melody Charles

 
Album of the Month - Plunky & Oneness - "Afroclectic"
Choice Cut - Chris Jasper - "For The Love of You"
Featured Album - Jeffrey Dennis - "Lovin On You"
Featured Album - Leon Ware - "Rainbow Deux"

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