In the early '90s, the Quiet Storm genre was having quite a moment, a respectable one if you will. Hard to believe as it now has been condemned to waft through intercom systems of department stores and dentist offices, pegged with the condescending title of "easy listening." Yet there was a time where the songstresses, wordsmiths and the saxophonists that shrilled away in the background received respect for what they did, and a lot of them flourished through dedicated fan bases and hit entries on the charts. From that flourish came singer-songwriter Rachelle Ferrell, who pretty much stood in a class of her own. One listen to that peerless rich instrument she calls a six-octave voice will make you a believer of that fact. She too made a niche for herself among the Regina Belle's, Oleta Adams' and Miki Howard's of her ilk with her eponymous second album, and though it isn't the flashiest or most game-changing album in this reunion, it certainly is an album that leaves a lasting impression.
The first time I heard Ferrell was not from this album, but from her guest appearance on Quincy Jones' Q's Jook Joint from 1995. She appeared right alongside Brian McKnight, Take 6 and the late James Moody for the classic reading of jazz standard "Moody's Mood for Love." The result? Farrell, well, she snatched the rug from under McKnight even though she had less time and space to do so. From that moment I learned that there are "singers" and "people who just sing," and the former is Farrell.
Close to Anita Baker in her approach, but fully in control on her own terms, Ferrell wasn't brassy or had the gleam of crossover appeal shone on her, nor was she flashing flesh and showing out for the sake to be seen and heard. No, Ferrell is a singer-singer's, that is her stance, and she puts much stock into it by singing her rump off on this set.
It hard to ignore the fact that Rachelle Ferrell was a slight attempt at a mainstream crossover, which would make Ferrell into the next Baker or Brenda Russell, and while the set-up is laid out for that, Ferrell's heart was always in a more classical jazz aesthetic. Her first album, 1989's First Instrument gave off echoes of Ella, Sarah and Carmen, but here she puts on a different hat, a contemporary R&B one. Here is where those two sides to the Pennsylvanian vocalist meet, but it proves that Ferrell is comfortable with tapping into many genre faucets and her voice allotted her to do so.
With George Duke at the helm of this decadent release, Rachelle Ferrell has great cohesiveness, each song gliding into the next with much variance. While I'm used to Duke's funky slap guitar and his "Brazilian love affairs," his trek into lush contemporary R&B sees his fluidity to adapt to any and all genres into focus, much like Ferrell. Though his usual intricate and layered sound is toned down here, its streamlined approach allows Ferrell to let her voice be the multifaceted focal point. Along with many familiar names in session work, those that include Paul Jackson Jr., Kevin Eubanks and Paulinho Da Costa, Rachelle Ferrell gleams with talent galore.
Right out the gate, opening track "I'm Special" drafts the album out, and to me it's the finest moment. I love how it builds up and delicately glides along on its sweet romantic proclamation. Easily it's my favorite track. Ferrell continues to coax with her vocals like on the come-hither of "Waiting" and when she's joined with the elegant vocal stylings of Will Downing on "Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This" things continue to ignite. Other favored moments are "It Only Took a Minute" which has utterances of sophisticated-pop, and Ferrell drops some gospel truth on "With Open Arms" and slays.
Duke's influence shows itself on the up-tempos like the feisty "You Can Get (Till You Learn To Start Giving)" and "Welcome To My Love," but I much prefer and adore the finger-snapping frolic of "I Know You Love Me," which zips in and out in intricate word play while Ferrell latches onto one of the longest and most thrilling long-standing notes I've ever heard in a song. Seriously, I was able to scramble an egg in the time frame. Okay, I kid, but Ferrell back-hand slaps some of the most esteemed songstresses with this moment, but with the utmost graciousness mind you. Karyn White co-penned the most recognizable single baiting track, "Til You Come Back To Me," and it snakes its way around in affection charm.
Yes, Rachelle Ferrell is negated to "easy listening" in today's terms, but that's sort of what I really love about it and the singer herself. As someone who most of the time prefers ram-bam dance grooves over an album chock-filled with rumbles of quiet storms, a refreshing change of pace happens when giving Ferrell's second set a spin. No studio trickery, no showy gimmicks, and no frills, Rachelle Ferrell is an album that doesn't try to be something that it isn't, it just is, and with Ferrell giving a vocalizing masterclass, you have to admire what she has perfected and painted here. Though only releasing one studio album after in 2000, the fan favorite Individuality (Can I Be Me?), Ferrell still remains on the tour circuit, and forgotten she won't be, especially not by me, as she continues to stay true to her gifts and to herself.