Review : Melinda Doolittle - Coming Back To You
EwAs a finalist on American Idol's season 6, Doolittle sang powerfully but lacked star power; at times it seemed like one of the vocal coaches had snuck on stage. So it's quite a surprise that her debut Coming Back to You ranks among Idol's liveliest yet. Doolittle channels Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin over live-band arrangements that feel fresh-faced and old-school at the same time. In "I'll Never Stop Loving You," she even uncovers an improbable reserve of torch-song sex appeal. ...full text
AllmusicAfter doing a background check on Melinda Doolittle, during the early stages of American Idol's sixth season, something did not quite add up. Why would a singer so skilled, already something of a proven industry veteran -- with backing vocal credits on albums by Aaron Neville, CeCe Winans, Jonny Lang, and several others -- need to go through such a grueling process to get noticed and land a recording contract? As Doolittle continued to thrive on the show, that became more difficult to understand, and it also became increasingly evident that it might be best for her to not win the whole thing. With any luck, she'd fall just short of taking the prize, land on a sympathetic label, and team up with a professional producer who would tease out her strengths without worrying about platinum sales. And that, unexpectedly enough, is what happened. Coming Back to You is a set of throwback soul that has as much appeal as any other likeminded release from the past couple years, including Nikka Costa's Pebble to a Pearl and Raphael Saadiq's The Way I See It. All the promise Doolittle showed on national television as a powerhouse vocalist is fulfilled, and whatever she lacked as an assured performer -- she often seemed modest to an excruciating extent -- has vanished. She sounds like she's on her fifth or sixth album. Supported by producer Mike Mangini (Imani Coppola, Joss Stone, Elliott Yamin) and a fixed backing of session musicians that includes drummer Cindy Blackman, horn player and arranger Tom "Bones" Malone, and multi-instrumentalist Adam Pallin (Coppola's partner in Little Jackie), the album is technically all covers, yet it's only the most seasoned music fans who will recognize any of the material. "Walkin' Blues" and "Dust My Broom," a pair of songs written by blues legend Robert Johnson, get appropriately gutsy, strutting looks. Interpretations of three traditional pop songs penned by Sammy Cahn in the '50s, possibly sops to American Idol's eldest viewership, are impassioned but merely passable. Most of the remaining material, if not all of it, originally appeared on albums released in the last 12 years from the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, and Faith Hill. It's a ragtag assortment, for sure, and there's only so much enlivening that can be done to some of it. But it's all cast in warm, Southern-tinged soul, and it has a unified feel. Doolittle is nothing if not steady, making all the right moves at the right times, sounding at once like a seasoned pro and someone who feels everything she sings while never forcing or faking anything out. It's one of the smartest, most likable albums from an American Idol alum yet....full text
SlantmagazineConsidering that she's one of the only American Idol contestants ever to transcend the show's karaoke trappings, it's not much of a surprise that season seven finalist and erstwhile professional background singer Melinda Doolittle offers, with Coming Back to You, what is easily the strongest, most self-assured debut album by any of the show's many alums. Doolittle's run on Idol was characterized by unusually shrewd, genre-aware song choices and a vocal style that cast her as a throwback to classic R&B singers who relied more on soul and distinctive phrasing than the show's usual substitutions of melisma and glory notes. So rather than attempt to adopt contemporary trends that would be ill-fitting with her natural talents, Doolittle and producer Mike Mangini have wisely opted for a retro-minded style that falls right into the singer's wheelhouse, and the result is the first Idol debut that functions as a fully realized statement of artistic identity.
Although the album is a collection of covers, many of these songs are relatively unknown (opener "Fundamental Things" is lifted from one of Bonnie Raitt's lesser recent albums, while "If I'm Not In Love" was most recently done by Faith Hill), meaning that Doolittle is not competing with any iconic performances. That gives the singer ample room to flex her considerable muscle: She vamps and growls through a sultry rendition of blues legend Bobby Johnson's extraordinary "Dust My Broom" and conveys a palpable sense of longing on the title track. It would be too easy to call these readings effortless; that Doolittle has put serious thought into her phrasing throughout the record is clear on standout cuts like "Walkin' Blues" and the torchy "It's Your Love."...full text
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