Friday, March 30, 2007

Music: Deniece Williams - Love, Niecy Style

Deniece Williams will forever be one of the great all-time R&B divas. Processing an infectious, angelic and soulful honey -coated voice with an awe-inspiring range, Deniece Williams set the bar high for R&B singers back in the 70s and to this day her influence can be heard on everyone from Mariah Carey to Beyoncé. Her songs have been sampled by dozens of artists including Will Smith and Master P. Deniece's pure, rich and spine-tingling vocal quality, along with her impeccable diction and ability to honestly connect with any song has resulted in a vast catalog of hits. Some of her timeless anthems include Silly, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late ( No. 1 pop and R&B duet with Johnny Mathis), Let's Hear It For The Boy (the million-selling pop/soul chart-topper from the movie Footloose), It's Gonna Take A Miracle, Free (from the gold album This Is Niecy) and Black Butterfly.

In recent years the chanteuse has primarily been recording gospel records but on April 24, 2007 Shanachie Entertainment will release Deniece Williams' highly anticipated return to R&B Love, Niecy Style produced by renowned Philly soul producer Bobby Eli. Deniece's label debut will mark her first major return to R&B in over a decade. For this momentous occasion Deniece called upon some of the artists who have been instrumental throughout her career: Stevie Wonder, George Duke and Philip Bailey.

Indeed, a songbird with a dynamic range, a distinctive sound and a true gift for lyrical interpretation, Deniece has long enjoyed a place in the hearts of music buyers who embraced her through a rich legacy of close to 30 charted singles and a dozen best-selling albums. Her career also includes 4 Grammies and an extensive list of credits including 16 Grammy nominations, 3 Stellar Awards, an American Music Award and an Oscar nomination.

As Deniece reflects "I wasn't really thinking about making a new record until a mutual friend put me in touch with Bobby, who I knew from the recording sessions I did with Thom Bell in the early '80s. Bobby talked to me about the idea of doing a project of songs that I've always loved. I thought it was a great way to honor artists like Luther Vandross, Donny Hathaway and Gwen Guthrie and what their music has meant to me. When people listen to this project, I hope it will take them back down memory lane as well as create new memories for those who may not be familiar with all the songs on the album."

Within weeks of agreeing to Love, Niecey Style, they began selecting songs. "There were so many songs I had been carrying around forever, humming them, singing them and never thinking I would be recording them!" she declares. "By the time we finished, I felt we had done what we set out to do." For Eli, working with Deniece was "a pure pleasure. She's a producer's dream, a very special artist and someone I always wanted to work with from being on the Thom Bell sessions with her."

Love, Niecey Style is particularly special, given the presence of three distinguished music men who have played an integral role in Deniece's career at different times: icon Stevie Wonder (with whom Deniece got her first gig as a member of his touring backup vocal group Wonderlove in 1972); super producer, songwriter and artist in his own right, George Duke (who produced 1984's Grammy-winning "Let's Hear It For The Boy"); and renowned vocalist Philip Bailey, of Earth, Wind & Fire, with whom Deniece was associated by virtue of working with EW&F's Maurice White and Kalimba Productions from 1976 to 1982.

What distinguishes Niecy's new CD from other albums of R&B 'cover' tunes is the range of her choices, starting with the 1963 Baby Washington chestnut That's How Heartaches Are Made through to Donny Hathaway's eternal Someday We'll All Be Free and on to Luther Vandross' first solo smash, Never Too Much. For good measure, Deniece re-recorded her own Cause You Love Me Baby, a staple in her repertoire since the track was included in her 1976 Columbia debut album as well as cutting a brand new song, The Only Thing I'm Missing Is You.

"I'd been wanting to record That's How Heartaches Are Made for years. I was thirteen when I first heard Baby Washington sing this song. It touched my heart because at the time, I was in love with this boy but he didn't love me the same way! When we started recording the song, I could hear Stevie (Wonder) playing harmonica on it. 'Can you come down?' I asked and he was gracious enough to play on the track. It turned out beautifully. Love's Holiday has always been one of my favorite EW&F songs. Then having my dearest friend Philip Bailey sing on it…it doesn't get any better than that!"

This Time I'll Be Sweeter (previously cut by both Angela Bofill and Roberta Flack, one of the many artists whose recordings - including Minnie Riperton and Esther Phillips - benefited from her work as a session singer in the '70s) is a tribute to a longtime friend: "The song was written by the late Gwen Guthrie who we lost to breast cancer. Gwen used to sing with me, Lani Groves and Patti Austin - we were in the same circle of background singers when I lived in New York and I remember when she wrote the song. I always wanted to do it and it's my way of honoring Gwen."

Deniece has been busier than ever, recording a children's CD, Lullabies To Dreamland, appearing in the London cast of the pioneering musical Mama I Want To Sing, producing and hosting her own radio program, The Deniece Williams Show on BBC Radio for almost ten years. Purposely devoting much of her time to raising her four sons, she says she made a conscious choice to limit her touring activities: "I've been doing maybe ten concerts a year and in recent years, I've really got into writing theater pieces and developing film scripts with my older sons. I felt it was time to test myself in other creative ways. Now with my children grown, it's time for mom to be out there again! I chose to stay at home and did only 10% of what I could have done. Vocally, I think I'm stronger than I've ever been and it's time to get out there and do it. I've been blessed with a fantastic audience and I'm always humbled by that. My audience reminds me that this is what I'm supposed to be doing!"

Listen Here:

Deniece Williams
Love, Niecy Style
Shanachie Records
April 24th

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