Mica Paris - Born Again (2009)

Mica Paris
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I must admit a shocking truth: I didn't get Mica Paris. I'm the only critic I know who preferred Tamia's Quincy Jones' produced version of "You Put A Move On My Heart" over Paris's rich originating take of the 90s power ballad. And while I appreciated Paris's debut project, So Good, some 22 years ago, and liked aspects of 1993's Whisper a Prayer, I never experienced for Mica Paris that unquantifiable "thing" that makes her fans willing to get into fist fights over their beloved UK Queen of Soul. Nervous about my ever-tenuous critic's card being swiped for not recognizing the genius of this international darling's music, I bought album after album trying to hear, to understand her storied magic-and was still left wanting. None of the albums following Whisper A Prayer, including such rarities as Black Rain and Soul Classics managed to do more than disappoint me.
I must admit a shocking truth: I didn't get Mica Paris. I'm the only critic I know who preferred Tamia's Quincy Jones' produced version of "You Put A Move On My Heart" over Paris's rich originating take of the 90s power ballad. And while I appreciated Paris's debut project, So Good, some 22 years ago, and liked aspects of 1993's Whisper a Prayer, I never experienced for Mica Paris that unquantifiable "thing" that makes her fans willing to get into fist fights over their beloved UK Queen of Soul. Nervous about my ever-tenuous critic's card being swiped for not recognizing the genius of this international darling's music, I bought album after album trying to hear, to understand her storied magic-and was still left wanting. None of the albums following Whisper A Prayer, including such rarities as Black Rain and Soul Classics managed to do more than disappoint me.

Then a devoted Paris fan sent me a fairly recent You Tube video of Mica Paris standing flat foot with both hands on the mike, head bowed, crooning Gershwin's "Summertime," from the opera Porgy and Bess. Mica performed the lullaby in a from-the-basement voice that carried with it all the weight, struggles and hopes of the ancestors to their newborn children, and it was at that moment I finally got it. I finally understood all the fuss over Mica Paris. Now, at long last, Paris has released a brand new album that fully actualizes my appreciation for her, hopefully from this day forward. If you've never appreciated a Mica Paris project before now, Born Again is the album to gamble on. Did I mention that the complexly mournful, yet hopeful performance of "Summertime" is included as a bonus track? Yeah, run don't walk to cop this gold standard project.

Paris has always had a chocolaty thick alto, but the songs it coated never seemed to bake an interesting cake. Bad songs, bad production. It seemed Mica Paris was destined to be a wonderful talent who just couldn't land a vehicle that best showcased her ample talents, at least for me. Meanwhile, other heavy-voiced, plain-spoken singers like Maysa and Lalah Hathaway were getting the better material and accompanying glory. Under Born Again producer Brian Rawlings, we have an elasticity and wealth to Paris's voice and production that has been missing under the stead of previous producers. On accessible, retro-soul home slices like "Baby Come Back" and "The Hardest Thing" you can hear Paris channeling Chaka Khan to a rousing, devastating effect. Pulling off her best Phyllis Hyman, Paris practically steals Eric Benet's "You're The Only One" from the Grammy-winning artist. She manages to snatch candy from a baby when she lifts Keisha Cole's "I Remember" from the would-be singer. There are moments like the acoustic title track , the rambling pop of "Hold On," the stripped down version of her #1 hit "My One Temptation" and the disco-light of "Tonight" where the song and approach are entirely, sweetly her own.

The primary difference from this effort and the five or so albums that came before is that someone finally paired Mica with material worthy of her; songs she could effortlessly interpret in ways full, experienced and moving. As the album title professes, Mica Paris has been born again; this time as an artist I can proudly put up my dukes to defend as one sangin' angel of soul. Highly Recommended.      

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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