Sway Penala - My Story (2010)

Sway Penala
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Watching Season 9 of American Idol helps pinpoint two obvious truths: the best is behind them and the show is just a hallow shell of its former glory. And, with the recent madness of past seasons' talent rising to the occasion to record their freshman records, we're much better for yesterday. On Season 5, Jose "Sway" Peñala, a Southern Cali Filipino who donned his trademark Fedora and cool urban swag, stood in the shadows of definite standouts Elliott Yamin, Taylor Hicks and Chris Daughtry. Penala wound up going home before his full potential was revealed to the masses, but it didn't silence his passion.

Watching Season 9 of American Idol helps pinpoint two obvious truths: the best is behind them and the show is just a hallow shell of its former glory. And, with the recent madness of past seasons' talent rising to the occasion to record their freshman records, we're much better for yesterday. On Season 5, Jose "Sway" Peñala, a Southern Cali Filipino who donned his trademark Fedora and cool urban swag, stood in the shadows of definite standouts Elliott Yamin, Taylor Hicks and Chris Daughtry. Penala wound up going home before his full potential was revealed to the masses, but it didn't silence his passion.

On My Story, his debut solo project, Peñala digs into a comfortable set of personally-penned selections done with the finest production. Remarkably, Sway surpasses most of his AI colleagues in delivering effortless vocals, dazzling the ear with thrilling high-register vocal runs reminiscent of Charlie Wilson. " Smooth Route " easily entrances listeners with its bedroom magic, while "Lovely Lady," the album's first single, promises to be the ice-breaker for Sway's fine solo career. Although he does focus a bit too much on reviving the steamy, sexy uptempo R&B of the late 20th century towards the front of the disc, he fortunately finds a healthy pattern of balance with a handful of pop-engraved songs ("Better to Never," "Anything But Love," "I'm a Wreck," "Cry Like That") and smoothed out love ballads ("Do You Still," "Out of Love"). The album's strongest standout, "What Do You Say," finds Sway uniting with Day 26 for a refreshing visit back to ‘90s R&B male group crooning with trademark BLACKStreet and Jagged Edge style.

What makes the presentation of My Story so remarkable is the album's swing from style to style, united by Peñala's brilliant performances and his engagement of some pretty good soul pop. Even with the project's various styles, Peñala consistently knows exactly what works for him both artistically and vocally, regardless of the tempo or shades of pop accessibility. Fans of Joe or old-school urban contemporary albums will certainly find Sway's My Story to be one of the perfect reads (no pun intended) of 2010.

Notable Tracks: "What Do You Say," " Smooth Route ," "Better to Never," "Do You Still," "I'm a Wreck"

Vocals: 4.0 stars
Music: 3.0 stars
Lyrics: 3.5 stars
Production: 3.5 stars
SoulTracks Call: Highly recommended

By J. Matthew Cobb

 
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