Maya Azucena - Junkyard Jewel (2007)

Maya Azucena
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Though this is only her second album, Maya Azucena has already established a sizeable and eclectic following around the world, principally as a guest vocalist on dozens of albums or singles by other artists in the soul, R&B, house, jazz, dance, rock and hip-hop genres.  And while covering a broad spectrum of sounds, Azucena has always brought a palpably subversive approach to her music that has made it all the more unusual and attractive.  Let's just say you wouldn't hear her singing Whitney Houston covers on American Idol. 

Though this is only her second album, Maya Azucena has already established a sizeable and eclectic following around the world, principally as a guest vocalist on dozens of albums or singles by other artists in the soul, R&B, house, jazz, dance, rock and hip-hop genres.  And while covering a broad spectrum of sounds, Azucena has always brought a palpably subversive approach to her music that has made it all the more unusual and attractive.  Let's just say you wouldn't hear her singing Whitney Houston covers on American Idol. 

Because of her wide ranging musical taste, many of Maya's fans wondered in what direction she would go on her sophomore album.  But almost typically, Azucena surprises on Junkyard Jewel.  She is likely known by most as a dance music artist, but here counters modern radio trends by releasing an entirely acoustic album -- not the type of Norah Jones clone or "unplugged" album that are being pumped out by others, but a live, coffee house-feeling album that has a distinct "edge" without having any drums or electronics.  The songs are mostly written by Azucena and producer Christian Ver Halen (The Rooftop), and bear an intelligent, somewhat idealistic lyrical slant that fits nicely in the near-folk musical surroundings.

Junkyard Jewel is fueled by the guitar work of Ver Halen and a  solid band consisting of percussionist Ivan Katz, bassist Jason DiMatteo, violinist Tarrah Reynolds and cellist David Gotay.   But Azucena's strong, expressive voice is clearly the lead instrument, running effectively through fine midtempo songs such as "Set You Free," "Runaway Blues" and "Like No Other" as well as a handful of ballads that include "Wash Over" and the title cut, the latter of which has been the stunningly beautiful highlight of her shows for over a year. 

Some soul fans may have difficulty warming to an album that sounds more at home at a Starbucks than at a club, but those who are open will find a lot to like on Junkyard Jewel, another unusual but positive step for an extremely talented young artist who should continue to blaze trails for years to come.  Recommended.

by Chris Rizik

 
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