Oleta Adams - Let's Stay Here (2009)

Oleta Adams
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Oleta Adams' mahogany alto is so warm and gracious, her interpretations so distinct, that you immediately know her voice, regardless of the tune. And, for a time, you never doubted that if Adams was singing on the track, the song would possess a bit of magic. For almost two decades, I scoped out Oleta Adams' features on jazz albums, tributes and soundtracks because even if I didn't like anything else on the project, I knew Adams would deliver a rendition worth the cost of the entire album. As much as the general public best remembers Adams for the first Iraq war's #3 pop hit, a cover Brenda Russell's "Get Here" from Circle of One, and fans appreciate her for the near-perfection of her sophomore release, Evolution, I loved Oleta for her covers and guest spots.
Oleta Adams' mahogany alto is so warm and gracious, her interpretations so distinct, that you immediately know her voice, regardless of the tune. And, for a time, you never doubted that if Adams was singing on the track, the song would possess a bit of magic. For almost two decades, I scoped out Oleta Adams' features on jazz albums, tributes and soundtracks because even if I didn't like anything else on the project, I knew Adams would deliver a rendition worth the cost of the entire album. As much as the general public best remembers Adams for the first Iraq war's #3 pop hit, a cover Brenda Russell's "Get Here" from Circle of One, and fans appreciate her for the near-perfection of her sophomore release, Evolution, I loved Oleta for her covers and guest spots. "Woman in Chains" with Tears for Fears, "Nobody Does It Better" with David Sanborn, "Stormy Weather" with Toots Thielemans, "Many Rivers To Cross" from Jason's Lyric, and definitive covers of ReRe's "Oh Me, Oh My," Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" and Gershwin's "Embraceable You," are must-haves for any Adams fan. Adams' simple, but emotionally cavernous covers of Benard Ighner, Billy Joel and even Amy Grant rivaled Luther Vandross's iconic interpretations of jazzy pop and soul. But listening to Adams' latest release, Let's Stay Here, where even a churchified take on Nina Simone is unconvincing, you realize that Adams' bewitching powers may have peaked long ago.

Her rearranged rendition of Simone's "Feelin' Good" offers remnants of the artist we love, but Adams just doesn't sound invested enough to take the oft-covered classic to the heights the tune requires. Adams' nearly unrecognizable instrumental of Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain" (Adams only plays the keys here) fares slightly better, if only by its melodic deconstruction of the standard. Still after one listen, you can't help but wonder how much better it would have been to hear Adams' sumptuous voice eating up Holiday's adulterer's confrontation. Only the rollicking gospel of "Act of Forgiveness" with its stripped down James Brown chords finds Adams singing with any real conviction. The rest of Let's Stay Here ranges from elevator music to almost interesting.

This isn't the first time Oleta Adams has delivered an album that didn't sing. 1995's Moving On may have been strained at times in Fontana/Mercury's failed effort to make the sweet Seattle church woman a bit edgier for the hip hop generation, but there were some satisfying major ballads, including: " I Knew You When," "You Need To Be Loved" and the anthemic " Life Keeps Moving On." Despite working with the A-list producers of Mariah Carey, Anita Baker, and Whitney Houston, Moving On, failed to capture the public's attention, and by 1997 Adams had successfully reinvented herself as a jazzy gospel singer with Come Walk With Me. It would be five years before she released another secular follow-up, All The Love (which was unscrupulously re-released three years later by Wave Records as I Can't Live A Day Without You), a project that would begin a trend of bland material, tepid hooks and uninspired, smooth jazz productions from Adams and a series of befuddled producers (their results certainly seem confused).

I had hoped after a nine-year hiatus from secular song, Adams would return refreshed, particularly after a few tracks from Christmas Time with Oleta offered such a gorgeous ruse. Instead, on Let's Stay Here I hear a singer who appears comfortable resting on her laurels, overly relying on her rich tone to carry songs that are not strong enough for an approach better mastered by Maysa, Will Downing and Lalah Hathaway. I would like nothing better than to inform you that Adams' first secular project in years is what you've been waiting for, but I'm disappointed to tell you that our Oleta hasn't been here for a very long time. Not Recommended.

 By L. Michael Gipson

 
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