Tammy Harris - Natural Vibe (2008)

Tammy Harris
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I left Tammy Harris' record Natural Vibe in the CD player of my minivan where I had been listening to it in preparation for this review. The family's down to one car, so me and my wife, Gail have to share the Mazda. She had to get some groceries, and the CD was playing "I Would Be Your Love," when she dropped me off at work.

In a way, this was a coincidence. I was in a rush, so I didn't have time to grab the CD before I got out of the car. But it was also kind of a test - call it the Gail Test. See, my wife has some pretty strong views on music, and especially the music of female singers. She has little patience for vocalists who reinforce stereotypical female roles in their lyrics. Beyond that, she's also a mother of three who has two jobs and that's not counting her 24/7 gig as domestic goddess. The music has to sound good, and the singer has to sound good, or she's not going to spend time listening.

I left Tammy Harris' record Natural Vibe in the CD player of my minivan where I had been listening to it in preparation for this review. The family's down to one car, so me and my wife, Gail have to share the Mazda. She had to get some groceries, and the CD was playing "I Would Be Your Love," when she dropped me off at work.

In a way, this was a coincidence. I was in a rush, so I didn't have time to grab the CD before I got out of the car. But it was also kind of a test - call it the Gail Test. See, my wife has some pretty strong views on music, and especially the music of female singers. She has little patience for vocalists who reinforce stereotypical female roles in their lyrics. Beyond that, she's also a mother of three who has two jobs and that's not counting her 24/7 gig as domestic goddess. The music has to sound good, and the singer has to sound good, or she's not going to spend time listening. She'll basically listen to the first 30 seconds of a song, and if she's not feeling it, Gail's fast-forwarding to the next track.

She rolled back around to pick me up about 45 minutes later. The first thing she said when I got into the car is, "Why didn't you tell me she remade a Brand New Heavies song," as Harris' cover of "Never Stop" played in the background. I had to admit that Gail had listened to the record far longer and closer than I had. "I didn't get that far," I said. The fact that Gail got that far means that Harris passed the Gail Test, and that probably means more than anything I will say in the rest of this review.

I heard what my lovely wife liked when I finally had an opportunity to turn my full attention to Natural Vibe. First, let's deal with the four cover songs on the album. I've always contended that the songs an artist chooses to cover provides insight into that artist's understanding of musical history as well as showcasing the singers and musical eras that influenced the artist. Harris remade "You Know How to Love Me," by Phyllis Hyman; Stephanie Mills' "Never Had A Love Like This Before" and The Brand New Heavies' "Never Stop."  The selection of those tunes reveals Harris as a singer attracted to women singers who have strong and distinctive voices. The selection of the Rogers and Hammerstein show tune "The Sweetest Sounds," from the 1962 musical "No Strings," shows that Harris is a student of music with respect for the Great American Songbook.

Harris is probably closest to Hyman stylistically. Hyman's sound was rooted in jazz with a big nod toward musical theater. Hyman remade Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood," and won a Tony Award for her performance in the musical "Sophisticated Ladies." Mills also had a noteworthy run in musical theater, playing Dorothy in "The Wiz." Still, those jazz nuances that made Hyman's music so great can be heard in many of Harris' songs. Those influences can be heard in swinging interplay of the instruments and tempo changes on songs such as "I Would Be Your Love" and "You Are." The opening tune and title song "Natural Vibe" fuses that jazzy feel with a bluesy touch of 1970s era funk, making the song a perfect bit of bedroom soul.

But just when you think you've got Harris pegged as a this generation's jazzy sophisticated lady, she throws listeners a curve and allows the N'Dea Davenport part of her art show. And while Harris's by the book remake of the Heavies song is nice, it's the funky, techno disco-influenced remix of "Natural Vibe" and a  sultry mid-tempo remix of "Come Over," that proves Harris was doing more than dancing to the Brand New Heavies in the 1990s. She was doing some wood-shedding as well. Natural Vibe is a strong effort that showcases a singer who pays homage to the past while being firmly set in the here and now.

By Howard Dukes

 
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