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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Review: Michele Thomas - I'll Take Romance

Michele Thomas - I'll Take Romance
2009, Michele Thomas

Chicago's Michele Thomas is a Jazz vocalist with a sweet voice and a predilection for the Jazz/Funk/Soul sound of the 1970's. Her debut album, I'll Take Romance focuses on standards, but you'll hear that 1970's sound slipping in and out from time to time. Thomas has a sweet voice within her comfort zone, but does struggle at times with pitch and tone when she stretches herself. There's not too much stretching on I'll Take Romance, however.

Thomas opens with the title track, and a velvety-smooth Jazz vocal that has some foibles but stands fairly well on its own. Thomas' band is top-notch, building arrangements around her voice that are pitch perfect. Black Nile brings Thomas into her upper register a bit. Thomas' doesn't have the knockout power of a Billie Holliday and isn't quite comfortable at the lower edge of her range, but in her comfort zone she's a fine vocalist. Thomas shines on Where Were You When I Needed You, a cover of Stevie Wonder's Superwoman (using the subtitle rather than the title). Thomas doesn't try to do too much with Wonder's creation, just lets the song be itself. The result is the best vocal performance on the disc.

Thomas gets to show off her scat skills on Charlie Parker's Marmaduke. Scat is a deceptive art; it sounds easy until you try to do it. The key is let go and let it happen - if you think it over too much it doesn't work. Thomas is brilliant here; mixing her voice with runs and solos on guitar, sax, trumpet and drums. Thomas takes on the Guy Wood/Robert Mellin penned My One And Only Love to great effect. This song perhaps doesn't get the respect it deserves these days, but in its time its been covered by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Doris Day & Andre Previn, John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Sting. Thomas is on the money once again in a reserved performance that's thoroughly in character with the song. Astrud Gilberto's Gentle Rain is up next, and Thomas gives it her all but starts to run up against her own limits on a challenging vocal line. Thomas' sound is still excellent, but this particular tune takes tremendous breath control and Thomas struggles a bit in a couple of the longer, slower passages. Thomas closes out wit Duke Ellington's Come Sunday in a heartfelt but vocally mixed performance. The synth-driven arrangement doesn't really suit the song all that well, and to strip it down this much you really need to be able to take control of the song, which Thomas never really does.

I'll Take Romance is a good start. Michele Thomas can certainly sing; it's her ambition that gets her into trouble. One some of the more challenging tracks on I'll Take Romance Thomas exposes her flaws, but in a day and age full of pitch-correcting software and endless over-dubbing it's refreshing to hear someone willing to stretch themselves and know what you do hear is real. Michele Thomas doesn't have the power to belt out songs, and sticks to surfing the more lyric side of jazz, generally to highly enjoyable effect.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Michele Thomas at You can purchase Messenger as either a CD or Download from

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