Queen Latifah - The Dana Owens Album (2005)

Queen Latifah
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Over the past decade, past-their-prime rock and soul artists, from Rod Stewart to Chicago to Boz Scaggs to Pat Benatar and Natalie Cole have tried to resurrect their careers by recording albums of pop and jazz standards from the 30s-50s.  Most have failed to turn around career slides; few have been critical successes (Cole being a possible exception).  However, Queen Latifah's foray into this area is atypical; she is now at the peak of her popularity and the recording of The Dana Owens Album appears to be more an artistic than market-driven decision, much like the Linda Ronstadt albums that began the standards trend in the 80s.  In fact, the Latifah/Ronstadt comparison is quite apt.  Both are singers with strong, beautifully-toned voices (Ronstadt's voice has a bit more range but less personality) whose vocal attractiveness allows them to record just about any style capably.  But the move from capable to transcendent is challenging, particularly when covering material that

Over the past decade, past-their-prime rock and soul artists, from Rod Stewart to Chicago to Boz Scaggs to Pat Benatar and Natalie Cole have tried to resurrect their careers by recording albums of pop and jazz standards from the 30s-50s.  Most have failed to turn around career slides; few have been critical successes (Cole being a possible exception).  However, Queen Latifah's foray into this area is atypical; she is now at the peak of her popularity and the recording of The Dana Owens Album appears to be more an artistic than market-driven decision, much like the Linda Ronstadt albums that began the standards trend in the 80s.  In fact, the Latifah/Ronstadt comparison is quite apt.  Both are singers with strong, beautifully-toned voices (Ronstadt's voice has a bit more range but less personality) whose vocal attractiveness allows them to record just about any style capably.  But the move from capable to transcendent is challenging, particularly when covering material that has been previously recorded by some of the greatest singers in history.

Dana Owens is far more interesting than the typical "standards album."  Queen Latifah has smartly avoided recording yet another version of "It Had To Be You" or "Someone to Watch Over Me," opting instead for generally less known selections from a wide spectrum of rock, pop, soul, jazz and blues.  And while the variety may ultimately limit the audience for The Dana Owens Album, it makes for a much better overall disc and showcase for Latifah's talent.  Her crisp voice is just right for the light disco arrangements of "Hard Times" and Bill Withers' "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh," as well as the faithful cover of 60s soul gem "Hello Stranger."  And her vocal strength works well on the bluesier "Baby Get Lost" and "I Put a Spell On You."  Like Ronstadt, she has a tougher time on the jazzier tunes that require a true song stylist, such as "Moody's Mood for Love" and "Close Your Eyes," where her voice is pretty (as always) but a bit uninspiring, and on the deep soul cover of Al Green's "Simply Beautiful," which is simply a bit out of her range.  She recovers nicely, though, absolutely nailing the acoustic reworking of the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'," likely the album's high point.

Queen Latifah amply demonstrates on The Dana Owens Album that she is a fine pop/soul singer.  And while the album's breadth exposes both Latifah's strengths and weaknesses, it is clearly an overall success that will provide many outside of the rap world with an initial, appealing view of this talented all-around performer.

by Chris Rizik

 
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