KeKe Wyatt - KeKe Covers (2017)

KeKe Wyatt
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KeKe Wyatt - KeKe’s Covers

Given the vocal acrobatics marking every bar and note, a more appropriate title for this covers album might have been KeKe Wyatt Unleashed. One of the stars of TV One’s R&B Divas and one of the more respected soul vocalists to come out of the early 2000s, Wyatt peaked early as a teen with back-to-back Top 10 R&B hits with Avant (“My First Love” and “Nothing in This World”) followed by a platinum debut, 2001’s Soul Sista. The momentum on the megawatt talent’s career came to a screeching halt when it was widely reported that Wyatt was charged with stabbing her husband and manager, Rahmat Morton, reportedly to protect herself and her children in a domestic violence dispute.

KeKe Wyatt - KeKe’s Covers

Given the vocal acrobatics marking every bar and note, a more appropriate title for this covers album might have been KeKe Wyatt Unleashed. One of the stars of TV One’s R&B Divas and one of the more respected soul vocalists to come out of the early 2000s, Wyatt peaked early as a teen with back-to-back Top 10 R&B hits with Avant (“My First Love” and “Nothing in This World”) followed by a platinum debut, 2001’s Soul Sista. The momentum on the megawatt talent’s career came to a screeching halt when it was widely reported that Wyatt was charged with stabbing her husband and manager, Rahmat Morton, reportedly to protect herself and her children in a domestic violence dispute.

Despite several respectable releases and a #1 Urban Adult Contemporary hit with Avant in 2013 with “You and I,” Wyatt is still perhaps best known for her early hits and her role as the hilarious, if somewhat unstable character on reality TV’s R&B Divas. While the campy show didn’t restore Wyatt to platinum glory, it did allow viewers to witness her stratospheric range and near supernatural technical abilities, vocal talents too often overshadowed by her larger-than-life persona and personal life.

To retain her audience following the show’s cancellation, Wyatt capitalized on all of the attention by consistently releasing videos of her singing contemporary and classic pop and soul material for a growing social media fan base. Vocally undeniable, KeKe Covers represents the best and worst of Wyatt’s latest strategy to stay in the forefront of a fickle public.

The best of the strategy is that you get to hear a bonafide singer tackle familiar pop material that is often enhanced by having someone who has a wider vocal palette to play with than some of the songs' original performers. Where it works best are on songs where the original artist had a more simplistic, minimalist approach to the song, at least by comparison, as with Rihanna’s “Diamond,” Jeremih’s “Oui,” and Zayn’s “Pillowtalk.” On Wyatt’s Southern fried pipes, Chris Stapleton’s blues ballad “Tennessee Whiskey” (where Stapleton does his best Joe Cocker impression) becomes speakeasy molasses in the vein of Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue.” Perhaps most stunning is her no holds barred take on Rose Royce’s “I’m Going Down,” which Mary J Blige needs never to try to cover again after hearing Wyatt’s gospel drenched take. Prince fans will either love Wyatt’s liberated “Diamonds and Pearls” or find it a sacrilege. I happened to like it, but I grew up in the Black church and Wyatt is nothing if not church.

The problem comes when Wyatt tries to tackle songs of singers who go for broke in their own right, like Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” and Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Wyatt’s voice is too heavy and unable to yield to the storytelling of Parton’s lyric on “I Will Always Love You,” leaving more emotionally devastating versions like Houston’s and even Terrell Carter’s tribute take without competition. Anyone confused about Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s technical singing abilities only need to place Wyatt’s side by side with hers. Regardless of talent, with four key changes and modulations within each change and an approach that requires all belting and breath control, the song is a technical feat for any singer to conquer. Beyoncé makes it appear effortless, even live; while Wyatt’s is strained and labored the higher she climbs despite nailing the notes. It becomes an example of just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The selling point of the entire project is Wyatt’s voice. With the exception of a particularly lovely, if run-tas-tic acoustic duet of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” with her equally talented brother, Keever West, the productions are essentially karaoke versions of the originals with little variations. Likewise, the arrangements throughout are only interesting to the degree that Wyatt’s background harmonies are awe-inspiring gospel and jazz riff extravaganzas. That is not to say that they are harmonically unique as much as they are dynamically sung. Which is essentially what can be said about KeKe Covers: nothing is really unique or compelling other than the voice of a singer who has finally figured out a way for nothing else to overshadow her gift, not even more creative ideas. Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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