When it comes to musical family affairs, Tyrone Lee is more than well acquainted, even if the relationships were not always bound by blood. His connections to three influential families through different avenues have played a major role during his quiet, but respectable career. Performing under Tyrone Henry, the singer contributed backing vocals during the mid-2000s for the extended family collective of U.K. acid jazz icons, Incognito. Another connection belongs to a West End concert production honoring a Motown family legacy. Part of the show’s five-year longevity in covering the greatest of the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson is because of Lee’s creamy soulful touches on the group’s smash ballad, “I’ll Be There.” Besides his work with Incognito, Thriller Live and his in-demand backing work with Leona Lewis and Joe, Lee has finally earned an invitation for his solo bow to yet another prestigious family.
Lee now joins the roster of long time U.K.-based, soul specialty company, Expansion Records, home to new (Personal Life) and established artists (Maysa Leak) and its compilation series bread-and butter since 2000, Soul Togetherness. His debut, Invitation, delivers a package of what Lee deems, “self-indulgent love songs,” drawing from the essence of the King of Pop, Incognito jazz funk and much of Lee’s own laid-back, modern perspective on classic soul.
“Time of Your Life,” originally released on Soul Togetherness in 2009, launches Invitation with plenty of infectious acid jazz ingredients: blazing brass, popping bass, acoustic piano hooks and guitar strutting riffs. One of Invitation’s major strengths is the way Lee’s gentle tenor meshes seamlessly around upbeat Latin-spiced pieces. “Fall 4 U” is decorated with inviting electronic breakbeats. Drummer Martyn Kaine crafts a juicy percussion kick that accentuates the samba-friendly “Get My Life Back” and “Overload,” the latter sprinkled with a joyous yet brief trumpet solo by Graeme Flowers. For the ballad, “If Only I,” Lee’s soothing voice also works favorably, springing forth both sensuality and vulnerability. Regrettably, most of Invitation’s other ballads like “Listening to Your Heart” and “Sky to The Ground” end up being major letdowns, where Lee’s velvety approach mostly struggles to reach critical vocal peaks when the mood and song progression really dictates it.
Lee eventually revives Invitation’s ballad slump by returning to the dance zone. He channels MJ with “Woman in My World,” working through those Quincy Jones inspired grooves, and playfully utilizes his smooth tenor on the disco-fueled “Turn Up The Heat,” despite a slightly tinny synthesized arrangement.
Though Lee’s soulful heart is fully well intentioned on Invitation, he tends to be reserved when conveying the roller coaster expressions of romantic love. Yet, Lee’s warm tone and sweet spirit is forgivable in making up for the emotional holes, marking a decent debut solo introduction on behalf of his latest family ties for Expansion Records. Somewhat Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver