Vesta - Seven (2013)

Vesta
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It’s unfortunate - even tragic - that Vesta Williams died before the release of Seven, her final album. Would this album be the one that earned Vesta the mainstream acceptance that eluded her later in her career? Probably not. Vesta faced the same challenges that confront veteran R&B singers making music in an industry that caters almost exclusively to young listeners. She dealt with declining label support, the ill-fated efforts to change her style and separation from the big label in the 1990s. But with all she seemed to lose in those later years, this new release shows that, artistically, she found even more.

It’s unfortunate - even tragic - that Vesta Williams died before the release of Seven, her final album. Would this album be the one that earned Vesta the mainstream acceptance that eluded her later in her career? Probably not. Vesta faced the same challenges that confront veteran R&B singers making music in an industry that caters almost exclusively to young listeners. She dealt with declining label support, the ill-fated efforts to change her style and separation from the big label in the 1990s. But with all she seemed to lose in those later years, this new release shows that, artistically, she found even more.

By the time Williams died, the music industry provided her little support. But while the industry continued its longstanding focus on youth, Vesta’s world view changed. The old Vesta used food and drugs to cope with her disappointments. The transformed Vesta joined the church, stopped using drugs and sculpted her body through diet and exercise while working tirelessly to rebuild her reputation. The insecure Vesta spent part of the 1990s chasing musical trends in a corporate mandated effort to stay relevant. The confident Vesta of this decade embraced the sound that suited her sultry, sassy and mature vocals.

The Bible tells us that seven is the number of completion. Seven the album tells the story of an artist who completed a musical and emotional journey. Vesta invites listeners to share her pain on the introspective ballad “Water on the World.” The tune tells the story of a person who wore a joyful public face, and that facade masked the pain Vesta carried.  Anyone who watched the posthumous “Unsung” episode knows that Vesta attracted hangers-on when hits such as “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and “Congratulations” topped the charts. The parasites bled the singer dry to the point that she couldn’t afford to buy stockings. “Water On the World” is a beautifully sung and honest portrayal of personal and professional pain. 

Vesta reveals her injuries on “Water On the World.” However, that track serves as the setup for her comeback on the triumphant “Better Days.” This mid-tempo stepper’s anthem finds the singer assuring listeners that her situation – and ours – will change for the better. “Better Days” is an inspirational anthem that basks in the virtues of persistence and optimism. “Troubles on my heart/things falling apart/the fight in me was slowly dying/but never did I give up trying to find my moment to shine.”

Vesta was a mother, and the artist reveals a concern for young mothers and daughters on the track “All You Girls.” This cut sports a classic Motown sound, as well as the theme of a seasoned woman imparting wisdom on the younger ladies.

Vesta wouldn’t be Vesta if she didn’t devote some of the tracks to addressing affairs of the heart. Seven sports solid inspirational tracks, but Vesta is in top form on cuts allowing her to channel that sensual, playful and sassy side. The vocalist coos an erotic sales pitch on the percussive ballad “5 Ways” and pledges her devotion on  “Dedicated,” another funk filled ballad. She plays the hanging judge while telling a man sized boy about his shortcomings on “Silly,” perhaps the best track on this very good album, and shows that Keith Sweat ain’t got nuthin’ on her when it comes to begging on the dance floor ready “Can We Talk About It.”

I’m one of the music fans who lost track of Vesta after the mid 90s. I’d hear “Congratulations” on the radio and go into where-is-she-now mode. Truth is that even in the midst of her struggles, Vesta never went away. She sang jingles, acted in plays and in film and became a radio personality. Just as importantly, the trials helped her to find herself as an adult artist, and the results of that journey make her final album something special.  Sadly, Vesta is gone now, but in Seven she has left her fans a lovely valedictory. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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