Shoshana Bean - Spectrum (2018)

Shoshana Bean
shoshana_bean_spectrum.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Show-stopping vocal showcases of powerhouse female singers who don’t rely on cutesy phrasing, trills, yodels, and endless runs on levels that used to be routine in the age of Patti, Chaka, Phyllis, Aretha, Gladys, Dionne, and early Whitney and Mariah have rapidly become a thing of the past. When albums that even come close to this kind of presentation come around, like Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show, Sheléa’s Love Fell On Me, Lindsey Webster’s Back to Your Heart, or even Demi Lovato’s Tell Me You Love Me, we’re immediately made nostalgic for a style of singing and singer that one seemingly has to tune into a reality show talent competition, a church pew, or some viral clip from a highly studied Asia to experience.

Show-stopping vocal showcases of powerhouse female singers who don’t rely on cutesy phrasing, trills, yodels, and endless runs on levels that used to be routine in the age of Patti, Chaka, Phyllis, Aretha, Gladys, Dionne, and early Whitney and Mariah have rapidly become a thing of the past. When albums that even come close to this kind of presentation come around, like Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show, Sheléa’s Love Fell On Me, Lindsey Webster’s Back to Your Heart, or even Demi Lovato’s Tell Me You Love Me, we’re immediately made nostalgic for a style of singing and singer that one seemingly has to tune into a reality show talent competition, a church pew, or some viral clip from a highly studied Asia to experience.

The other place those singers of the last two decades have landed is on Broadway, where that kind of flat-footed belting is still both welcome and revered. One of those singers has been Shoshana Bean, star of such Broadway hits as Hairspray and Wicked. Her three previous studio albums enjoyed top positions on the iTunes R&B and Blues charts in the U.S. and UK and earned her regular features on Scott Bradlee’s Post-Modern Jukebox series, but Bean’s name still is not as well known among soul aficionados as it should be. Her latest, greatest release, Spectrum, may finally change that for this seasoned performer who sings to the rafters like the divas of old.

A Musical Theater BFA graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Bean singing harkens back to an era when Broadway regularly delivered soul music some of its biggest female vocalists, including Melba Moore, Phyllis Hyman, Stephanie Mills, Jennifer Holliday, Bettye LaVette, and Heather Headley, among others. Now artists like Brandy, Deborah Cox, KeKe Palmer, Frenchie Davis, and Michelle Williams turn to Broadway or the West End after enjoying success on the charts or on television. Newcomers like Glee’s Amber Riley, Tony Award-winner Cynthia Ervio (The Color Purple), and veterans like Shoshana Bean offer hope that the diva vocalists with the multi-octave range, training, technique, and calculated restraint aren’t dead and that there’s still an audience out there willing to embrace them. Spectrum tries its hand at a range of genres, from big band jazz to blues to Broadway standards, pop, and, of course, R&B, but what ties every song together is the soulful take of its stunning vocalist who knows how to build a song rather than tipping her hand early and having no place to go.

While her warm alto illustrates she can hit the gas from the opening notes on boastful performances like Frank Sinatra’s “I Wanna Be Around” and Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You),” it’s when Bean takes her time and allows a song to breathe before hitting the sky scraper notes that Bean expresses the ability to interpret and embody a song in ways that is reverential to the melody but still delectably Bean. You can hear this gift on original songs like her composition “All To Me,” “Strange Thunder,” and “Remember the Day,” or on permanently five-fingered covers of Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain,” Rihanna’s “Stay,” and The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends.” When she unleashes herself, utterly transforming the song into something otherworldly, as she does at the end of Robert Goulet’s signature song from the show Camelot, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” there is no sense that this had ever been as sweetly sung in front of the floodlights of a lonely stage. The heights achieved are only as good as the foundation Bean lays to get there and Bean is nothing if not a master builder.

The architect has lots of help with Spectrum’s sturdy construction, including Grammy-nominated arranger Alan Gerber and an 18-piece band that supports Bean’s resonance rich voice in ways Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dee Dee Bridgewater would’ve received in their prime. Spectrum firmly places Bean in that kind of rarified company, reminding listeners of a time when the voice was so important that people could barely tell you what the other instruments were doing in a song, and were made to be in awe of what that most human of instruments could accomplish. Highly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
Video of the Month - Kea Michaels - "I Love You"
Album of the Month - Will Downing - The Promise
Featured Album - Candace Bellamy - Soul for the Season
Choice Cut - Kenya - "Favorite Things"

Leave a comment!