Tony Momrelle - The Best Is Yet To Come (2019)

Tony Momrelle
tony_momrelle_best_is_yet_to_come.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

Tony Momrelle - The Best Is Yet To Come

Tony Momrelle’s sinewy tenor has been gracing tracks on both sides of the pond for decades, covering classic R&B like “Golden Lady” and elevating original soulful house tunes like “Star” and “Sure” for bands such as Reel People and Incognito. His supporting vocals have backed such legends as Sade, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson, to name but a few. His last solo project, Keep Pushing, helped Momrelle to win the 2015 SoulTracks’ Editor’s Choice Award for Artist of the Year. A raspier voiced Stevie Wonder, Momrelle’s in-demand instrument has done a good job of referencing Wonder and Donny Hathaway but also of avoiding coming across as an exact replica of fellow doppelgänger artists like Frank McComb by maintaining its own distinct phrasing and grittier timbre, particularly as Momrelle’s voice wizens with age.

Tony Momrelle - The Best Is Yet To Come

Tony Momrelle’s sinewy tenor has been gracing tracks on both sides of the pond for decades, covering classic R&B like “Golden Lady” and elevating original soulful house tunes like “Star” and “Sure” for bands such as Reel People and Incognito. His supporting vocals have backed such legends as Sade, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson, to name but a few. His last solo project, Keep Pushing, helped Momrelle to win the 2015 SoulTracks’ Editor’s Choice Award for Artist of the Year. A raspier voiced Stevie Wonder, Momrelle’s in-demand instrument has done a good job of referencing Wonder and Donny Hathaway but also of avoiding coming across as an exact replica of fellow doppelgänger artists like Frank McComb by maintaining its own distinct phrasing and grittier timbre, particularly as Momrelle’s voice wizens with age.

While Momrelle wrote everything on his new project in the traditional soul style of the ‘60s and ‘70s (and is releasing it for the first time on his own record label!), the star of Momrelle’s work has always been his elastic voice. When Momrelle pushes himself to his full vocal potential with fire and sincerity, The Best Is Yet To Come, feels like a lie -- the “best” is already right here. However, when Momrelle coasts, as he does on the project’s earlier, sunny tracks, this fan does get a bit anxious about what’s next for both Momrelle and his third solo album since 2013’s Fly.

The first six or seven songs of The Best is Yet To Come often feel like a continuation of Keep Pushing, with fine soul orchestrations perfectly executed and open, breezy arrangements that harken back to pre-Talking Book Wonder, when writers like Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby were penning a lot of Wonder’s material. The soul pop songs are sweet and bright, and newcomers to Momrelle will be in awe of their Motown sound replications without sounding like a rip-off of any particular hits from the era. The liberal use of strings on the girl group feel of “You Got It,” the tambourine swing of “Sunshine,” and the accompanying horn solo of “I Should Have Loved You More” further honeys their pots in ways that can promote smiles. This ability to sound traditional but still be interesting and fresh is a testament to Momrelle’s growth as a song writer. His focus on melody also means repeated listening may deepen appreciation of these cuts over time, but the boxed in vocal arrangements ready made for Cholly Atkins choreography don’t allow for Momrelle’s vocals to knock you in the first round, and with every bit of your being you’re waiting for Momrelle to do exactly that. Because, he can.

The problem with the first half is the high bar of expectation that comes with an aces across the board album like Keep Pushing, which had such undeniable, eternal cuts as the sweeping “All The Things You Are” and heartbreaking piano ballads like “Remember” that evoked powerful emotions among listeners right from the start. Longtime fans of Momrelle may feel like he’s restraining himself, all too aware of the possibilities of his extensive range, waiting for endings of songs that build but don’t take it home. Luckily, this issue gets resolved in the second half, beginning with the vamp out of “I Can’t Live Without You” which starts restrained, but breaks through in a live studio recorded performance that shakes the rafters by the end.

From his cover of Ray Charles’s “I Believe My Soul (Live in London)” previously covered by Donny Hathaway on his 1970 debut, Everything is Everything, Momrelle goes for broke and breaks the anxiousness about what came before in a relieving pool of liquid soul. Every bit of church absent in the first half of the project is poured into this cover, as Momrelle’s willingness to give himself over to the spirit of Hathaway in the phrasing of the ‘70’s take of Charles’ classic. Momrelle howls with the blues and the rhythmic section rises to meet him with enough grease to Southern fry chicken. He and the funk band fry up a mess of potatoes to go with that crispy bird on the socially conscious jam session of “Two Minutes Forty,” which trims all the fatback to come in exactly at a streamlined 2:40. Together these cuts make a finger-licking meal of decadent soul.

Momrelle continues the winning streak with a smooth soul duet with Incognito singing mate, Maysa Leak, that would’ve been at home on the late ‘70s Philadelphia International Records catalog. Silk and satin oozes from “We Had Searched for Heaven,” a seductive song readymade to be serviced to Urban Adult Contemporary radio. A Maysa/Momrelle duet album wouldn’t be out of order given the complementary nature of their gifts.

The final two songs are opposites, but pinnacles in Momrelle’s songwriting achievement. The original “I Wanna Be Loved” is a modern soul pop anthem that has echoed yearnings going back to Dinah Washington’s jazz classic, but this wholly new song’s urgent declaration is undergirded by the political rather than the loneliness amplifying Washington’s similar choral hook. Likewise, the country-tinged “The Best Is Yet To Come” restores all hope and erases all doubt in Momrelle’s musical future as both singer and songwriter. The title track is roomy in the way that Momrelle’s voice best shines and has a direct lyric with an inspiring, gut punch of a universal message filled with hope and faith. On these cuts, Momrelle demonstrates his usual pitch perfect technique, but also a burning passion that, when present, makes Momrelle one of the best male singers in the genre today. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
Song of the Month - Kea Michaels - "Not My Friend"
Featured Album - Nichelle Colvin - Welcome to Gary
Featured Album - Rahsaan Patterson - Heroes & Gods

Leave a comment!