Regina Belle - The Day Life Began (2016)

Regina Belle
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Regina Belle - The Day Life Began

Since her 1987 debut album, All by Myself, Regina Belle has consistently delivered thoughtful, authentic vocals over meaningful, soulful material while ingraining shades of jazz, spirituality, and pop into her musical brand. More than a decade after her last R&B album (2001’s This Is Regina), the bright and sultry singer demonstrates the timelessness of her style on The Day Life Began. The production budget may be tighter than on previous records, but Belle demonstrates the purity and classiness fans crave from her on a well-rounded, ten-song set comprised of sophisticated melodies and thought-provoking lyrics.

Regina Belle - The Day Life Began

Since her 1987 debut album, All by Myself, Regina Belle has consistently delivered thoughtful, authentic vocals over meaningful, soulful material while ingraining shades of jazz, spirituality, and pop into her musical brand. More than a decade after her last R&B album (2001’s This Is Regina), the bright and sultry singer demonstrates the timelessness of her style on The Day Life Began. The production budget may be tighter than on previous records, but Belle demonstrates the purity and classiness fans crave from her on a well-rounded, ten-song set comprised of sophisticated melodies and thought-provoking lyrics.

Primary album producers The Heavyweights (featuring All-4-One’s Jamie Jones) provide Belle with feel-good tracks that complement the celebratory nature of her interpretations on numbers ranging in tone from the funky “It’s Alright” to the lush, mellow “You.” Whether she’s singing praises to the almighty, as on the opening title track, or conveying the urgency of ignorance pervading modern times (the astute “Open Our Eyes”), her crisp diction and innate strength get the messages across on first listen. As co-writer of roughly half of the selections, she simultaneously holds a firm grasp on what’s relevant to listeners who have followed her throughout her career. Take, for instance, the ‘90s-tinged, yet contemporary-sounding, “Imperfect Love.” Discussing the ups and downs that make a committed relationship ideal, she relates, “Love was bigger than all our tests…We decided that we gonna make it through…The journey gets better when it seems you won’t make one more day.”

Versatility aside, Belle has always been revered for her special way with an inspiring ballad. Fittingly, several of the most broadly appealing cuts on The Day Life Began are melodic slow-jams with comforting words. The reflective “You Saw the Good in Me” and heart-tugging “Be Careful out There” will especially resonate with those who loved earlier hits such as “Make It Like It Was” and her poignant reading of “If I Could.” Taking a more traditional turn, the songbook-styled “A Night of Love,” will come as a welcome treat to those who savored the jazzy flavor of 2004’s Lazy Afternoon.

Belle devotees likely remember with fondness the songstress’ 1995 ode to classic Philly soul, Reachin’ Back. In a simliar vein, she pays homage to the late Phyllis Hyman on The Day Life Began with a rendition of the 1979 gem, “You Know How to Love Me.” While the vibe is good and such a sterling disco-soul number is certainly worthy of keeping alive with a new reading, there’s nothing noteworthy added to this version by the production (which sounds a tad canned) nor Belle’s delivery. She does a serviceable job on the phrasing and tones, but it’s mighty hard to live up to Hyman’s recording, especially when the musical arrangement is basically a programmed copy of the more organic original. It’s the only moment on the album that really doesn’t make the kind of impression with which most of Belle’s output continues to impress.

For all of the glowing tunes on The Day Life Began, it’s the aforementioned “Open Our Eyes” that stands out most. While many artists of any given genre try their hand at recording socially conscious songs that will make a marked impact on audiences, Belle does better than most with her candid frankness, set to an engaging hook and quite palatable groove: “Look what we’ve created/The price that we’re paying/Is creation gonna be our end? … Technologically crazy, we all come to the table with our phones/And we don’t even talk to each other, it’s tech, e-mail, and Twitter, that’s all … Crazy’s the new normal, and we can’t afford to ignore that everything’s goin’ wrong.” ‘Nuff said. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor
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