Timotha Lanae - Red (2013)

Timotha Lanae
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I have a few issues with American Idol. The program is essentially a talent show and a singing contest, and that basically accounts for its long time success. Everybody loves a talent show – me included. My issues with Idol and other programs of that ilk are twofold: First, there are so many factors that go into determine whether an artist will achieve pop success, and a good singing voice is but one factor  - and perhaps not even the biggest one. The other issue that I have with the program is the lack of diversity in voices that advance on that show. Does anyone believe that a Louis Armstrong, or James Brown, or Billie Holiday or Mick Jaggar would have gotten to Hollywood on Idol, let alone won the entire thing?

I have a few issues with American Idol. The program is essentially a talent show and a singing contest, and that basically accounts for its long time success. Everybody loves a talent show – me included. My issues with Idol and other programs of that ilk are twofold: First, there are so many factors that go into determine whether an artist will achieve pop success, and a good singing voice is but one factor  - and perhaps not even the biggest one. The other issue that I have with the program is the lack of diversity in voices that advance on that show. Does anyone believe that a Louis Armstrong, or James Brown, or Billie Holiday or Mick Jaggar would have gotten to Hollywood on Idol, let alone won the entire thing?

Timotha Lanae, who just released her debut album Red, made it all the way to Hollywood before her Idol dream died in season six. So Lanae, like all those other Idol finalists, is a very good singer. Still, she doesn’t have the name recognition that comes with making a deep Idol run. Red shows that Timotha Lanae has other virtues that will help this Minneapolis native to establish a presence in the music industry. Lanae is a dancer and stage actress who performed in musicals such as “West Side Story” and “Ragtime,” to name a few. She is currently working on her own play. Lanae has musical interests that range from soul and musical theater to jazz and she displays the depth on Red.

Timotha Lanae’s writing is a showcase for her fertile imagination. That creativity can be seen on tracks such as “Jazzy Lady,” a cut that she fills with references to legendary people, places and songs from America’s classical music. “Drop me off in Harlem/then fly me on out to Birdland/I want to swing and stomp at that Savoy/Cuz God bless the child that’s got jazz/Then Round Midnight/We’ll take the A-Train/and spend a night in Tunisia/Oh this sho is Easy Living/I Ain’t Misbehavin’/Angel Eyes/I’m just a Jazzy Lady.”

The title track is the tune that perhaps best displays the respect that Lanae has for jazz, and she hardly sings on the track at all. Instead, she steps aside and allows her musicians to create and improvise. Plenty of artists wrap themselves in the cultural legitimacy conferred by being associated with jazz. However, they never manage to shut up long enough to actually allow anything approximating jazz to take place on their records. Lanae honors jazz through a Jon Hendricks-inspired vocal styling on “Jazzy Lady” and being content to co-sign for her sidemen on “Red.” She even covers “Night in Tunisia” to boot.

Most of the output on Red is a diverse offering of post-jazz genres such as funk, spoken word and classic and contemporary R&B. “People Pleaser” is a funky story of the troubles that fall to people who don’t stand up for themselves. “Radio” is a contemporary track that tells the story ladies using a radio DJ to send a message to the men who are objects of their affection. The track features contemporary hip-hop influenced production techniques and the required catchy hook. “Sending you this message via radio cuz/I’m much to shy to try and let you know you make me high boy I can’t tell you why/it’s just something in your eyes/that makes me want to try to send this message.

Lanae brings an element to jazz and sass to the vocals on the album’s ballads. “Red and Blue” finds the musicians laying back to allow the vocalist to step to the forefront. Lanae doesn’t disappoint, deploying vocal phrasing that exhibits her talent as a jazz torch singer with a blues sensibility. Lyrically, this track that tells the story of a woman who is attracted to a man despite her best efforts to resist is perhaps the strongest in a project filled with solid material. However, the bedroom ballad “Softly In My Ear” and the cut “Talkin’ To Myself,” which paints picture of a woman attempting to come with her isolation, come pretty close.

Idol, which its sole focus on singing, was an imperfect vehicle for a talent such as Timotha Lanae. She might have had more success on a program that provides a holistic platform for her varied talents. That place does not exist in the current reality TV landscape. Fortunately, such a place exists in reality. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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