BARNES, MAHALIA & THE SOUL MATES ft BONAMASSA, JOE - OOH YEA The Betty Davis Songbook - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2014
Australian singer Mahalia Barnes pays tribute to
the funk/soul music of Betty Davis in this album, backed by professional
players including none other than Joe Bonamassa
(Black Country Communion) on guitar; and we have to say that the fact this was
released has a value in itself, as it has brought the brave, colorful music of
Betty Davis, who seems to have been forgotten, to a new audience, including
ourselves and we are grateful for that.
Now, Barnes might actually be a better singer than Davis. She is a natural
singer, and R&B seems to flow through her entire body. She sings with
passion and pathos, and is extremely technically proficient. Sometimes,
however, this album sounds too polished.
Barnes' performance is effective throughout. On "Game Is My Middle
Name" she plays around with her backing vocalists, with a definite groove.
On "He Was A Big Freak," which is painted vividly with excellent guitar
licks, Barnes soars higher and higher in a way that reflects the song's smutty,
sexual scenes, recalling the original shouty vocals
while remaining more tuneful.
However, as a performer we feel that Barnes needs to connect better with the
rest of the music, if not to lead it. On many of the songs, the
vocalist-backing synergy is lacking. An actual interaction between the singers
on the aforementioned "Game Is My Middle Name," for instance, could
have raised it to an even higher level. Another example of this is the version
of "In The Meantime" - one of the lower keyed numbers here, which in
its original form featured some whispered vocals - is performed with a Van
Morrison vibe and inspiring organ-guitar setting, culminates with what we consider
exaggerated vocals; we would have preferred it to end in a calmer fashion.
Also, the music tends to be overly busy, and this does not let the funk
breathe as it did on the original versions. We encourage the approach taken on
"Your Mama Wants You Back": a minimal, bass and drums introduction
finds the guitar sneaking in with style; and the considerably minimal backing
is maintained throughout, with keyboards and guitar curiousities
thrown for good measure; the result is totally sexy yet somewhat implicit and
suggestive of the heat.
Maybe funk does not need to be subtle. Maybe it should be as showy and as
loud as Barnes is. But we would like her to take into account that sometimes
sexy means not only sweaty but also dirty, and perhaps even risky. We deeply
acknowledge her risk of making an entire album out of Davis songs, but still we
wish to hear her risking even more with regards to her actual performance on
her next release, which we will be looking forward to. (8.2/10)
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