December 6, 2009

Tracy Hamlin - Better Days

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Although perhaps best known for her work as lead vocalist with Heads Up recording artists, Pieces of a Dream, Tracy Hamlin has performed with musical luminaries such as Carlos Santana, Marcus Miller, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum, Wayman Tisdale, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Acoustic Alchemy and Richard Elliott. Her solo debut Seasons was released in 2005 and featured both Najee and her colleagues from Pieces of a Dream. It proved to be a stellar showcase for her rich vocal tones and built the perfect bridge between jazz and R&B. Now she is back with the sophisticatedly jazzy Better Days.

The style of Better Days is beautifully demonstrated with the soulfully mellow title cut and when Hamlin partners with Eric Essix for the silky ‘No Regrets’ the result is one of the highlights of the entire collection. The tune is further blessed by great guitar from Essix and excellent sax from Kelley O’Neal who also comes up big for Hamlin’s version of the classic ‘At Last’. Elsewhere smoky muted trumpet from Melvin Jones heralds in the evocative strains of ‘Good Morning Heartache’ and the tight beat of ‘You Are The One’ lays a platform for Hamlin to deliver a soul drenched mid tempo vocal that is reminiscent of Maysa Leak at her very best.

Eric Valentine lends his production skills to the effervescent and Incognito like groove of ‘Free’ while in complete contrast is the introspectively bluesy ‘Last Kiss Goodnight’ that serves to show off the full range of Hamlin’s vocal prowess. Later she manages to pack a load full of soul into her feisty rendition of the Stevie Wonder composition ‘Until You Come Back To Me’ which in its time was a massive hit for Aretha Franklin. It is one of nine numbers produced by Phil ‘Big Dog’ Davis and another is Hamlin’s faithful cover of the Bill Withers blockbuster ‘Use Me’. In fact the contribution that Davis also makes as co-writer and keyboard player leads to some of the album’s most memorable moments and one such delight is ‘You’ve Got To Let Go’. This is a tune that evidences Hamlin’s consummate ability to handle a neo-soul vibe yet in the final analysis it is the deliciously chilled out ‘Yesterdays’ that snatches the accolade of Secret Garden top track. Co-written by Hamlin and Davis, this is as good an example of smooth R & B as will be heard all year.

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Posted by Denis Poole at December 6, 2009 5:47 PM