Regina Belle - Love Forever Shines (2008)

Regina Belle
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There are a handful of R&B and soul voices that still maintain a loyal following long after the artist's season of steady hit making has passed. Artists such as Peabo Bryson and Patti LaBelle have had enduring careers by venturing out into different musical terrain to capture new audiences while still staying true to their base. With the release of her debut gospel album, Love Forever Shines, singer Regina Belle shows us why she is among this elite rank of soul survivors.

There are a handful of R&B and soul voices that still maintain a loyal following long after the artist's season of steady hit making has passed. Artists such as Peabo Bryson and Patti LaBelle have had enduring careers by venturing out into different musical terrain to capture new audiences while still staying true to their base. With the release of her debut gospel album, Love Forever Shines, singer Regina Belle shows us why she is among this elite rank of soul survivors.

A graduate of Rutgers University in Jazz and Classical Performance, Regina Belle has maintained a touring and recording career for two decades by creating soulful music in the pop, R&B, jazz and, now, gospel genres. Her commercial break came early when the popular R&B group, The Manhattans, took the young Ms. Belle on tour with them as an opening act and in 1986 recorded "Where Did We Go Wrong." Those breaks launched her career as a respected vocalist. In the subsequent 22 years, Belle has built a respectable resume of radio and chart-topping hits beginning with her debut singles "Please Be Mine" and "So Many Tears" and followed by such career highlights as the sensual R&B hit, "Baby Come To Me," and the moving "If I Could." The career pinnacle for Belle came through a sweeping #1 pop ballad, the Grammy Award-winning "A Whole New World," sung with Peabo Bryson. The crossover soundtrack hit from Disney's Aladdin isn't the only mesmerizing duet work from Mrs. Belle, early in her career she'd worked with Bryson on "Without You" and with Johnny Mathis on "Better Together."

The years since her career highpoints have found Regina Belle consistently gigging for a solid fan base and releasing music that has remained devoted to her distinctive soul mix of jazz and gospel influences. Now in the autumn of her solo career, the forty-something songstress has followed a recent veteran trend by releasing her first straight ahead gospel project, Love Forever Shines.

The gospel album is an interesting, though not entirely surprising transition for Belle. The artist has had a knack for releasing varied material every few albums while still managing to give her soul fans what they expect. Whether Regina Belle is indulging her different musical interests by releasing a covers album of Philly International hits or a contemporary jazz project, Belle is consistently soulful in her delivery. Even when the industry made an about face by supporting glossier urban productions, and ‘gangsta' hip-hop's popularity was skyrocketing, Belle stuck to her classic soul guns on the strictly R&B albums, This Is Regina!, and, Believe In Me. In 2001, Belle also began winning over Contemporary Jazz audiences with the Grover Washington Jr. classic "Just the Two of Us" from the tribute project To Grover with Love and most recently with the jazzy Lazy Afternoon album. Now with Love Forever Shines, Belle is hot on the heels of her friend, Patti LaBelle, another superstar who waited years after having already establishing a career in jazz and soul music before releasing her first gospel project.

Some may ask, why Belle took forever to follow suit? The answer may lie in the messages found in Love Forever Shines; it appears that for Regina Belle this album is simply about being grateful. She's not alone; fans too will be grateful to still hear Belle's stylish brand of old school soul imprinted on both the title track and on the humble "Who Touched Me." Belle's remarkable trademark duets are also on hand. This time, the scene's gospel quartet favorite, Melvin Williams, and the newly minted contemporary gospel powerhouse, Shirley Murdock, both shine on "Good To Be Loved" and "I Call On Jesus," respectively. Those who appreciate a pinch of jazz won't be disappointed in both the colorful lead vocal and smoky piano accompaniment on "I'll Never Leave You." But hold on, even with all those gracious gems on Love, the project still has more love to give with the album's crème-de-la-crème, "God Is Good." Written by Regina's brother, Bernard Belle, the acapella "God Is Good" is one barebones, pure Gospel workout!

Love Forever Shines offers yet another legitimate reason why Regina Belle will always have an illustrious career. Even if the commercial hits never come back; with music this bright, Belle's loving listeners will forever come back for more.

By Peggy Oliver

 
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