Freda Payne - On the Inside (2008)

Freda Payne
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Now in the fifth decade of her enviable career, Freda Payne has nothing to prove.  But, unlike most of her contemporaries, Payne continues to perform tirelessly, regularly participating in stage musicals and tribute concerts and releasing new music on CD.  And, like an old friend, she still has a real relationship with her fans, one that continues on her newest recording, On the Inside, the first on her Band of Gold Records.

Now in the fifth decade of her enviable career, Freda Payne has nothing to prove.  But, unlike most of her contemporaries, Payne continues to perform tirelessly, regularly participating in stage musicals and tribute concerts and releasing new music on CD.  And, like an old friend, she still has a real relationship with her fans, one that continues on her newest recording, On the Inside, the first on her Band of Gold Records.

On the Inside is certainly one of Payne's most personal discs, with her co-writing seven of the cuts.  Her input on the lyrical content is marked, as they all bear the mark of an emotionally experienced woman -- one with fairly direct advice on both a woman's emotional needs ("Beyond the Bedroom") and often her unrealistic expectations ("The Ideal Man").  Payne's sometimes sage, sometimes weary personal take on relationships gives the disc an overall "grown folks music" tenor that fits well with her target audience.

The best news for Freda fans is that her distinctive voice sounds great.  Maturity has brought a slight rasp to her always-feminine vocals, and that little vocal twist works well in particular on the bluesier numbers on the album like "The Ideal Man" and on earnest big ballads such as the duet "Even If My Heart Could Break" (with Paul Hill) and the disc's best track, "On the Inside."

The lone notable flaw with On the Inside is Preston Glass's dated production. Much of the album has the tired, electronic feel of an early 90s disc, with even the occasional sax solo sounding contrived.  Payne's voice and compositions are solid enough to stand up to contemporary arrangements -- and would sound positively great with more acoustic, jazzy surroundings -- but unfortunately here sound stuck in a past vibe that doesn't do them justice in 2008.  Songs like the title track and the duet "Dreaming Wide Awake," on which Glass provides an appealing early 70s Motown aura, stand out, but the rest of the tracks are unfortunately lessened by their surroundings.

Any release by Freda Payne is a welcome release, and it is good to hear her sounding great and writing effectively as she enters her 60s.  And while it is not perfect, On the Inside is solid enough to be a worthwhile addition to the long, attractive discography of one of soul music's most recognizable singers.

By Chris Rizik

 

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