Archive for December, 2007

iCande delivers ear candy on delicious debut album


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell


It’s pronounced “eye candy,” and there’s no false advertising in that. Consisting of four very attractive young women – Alex, Alyssa, Shannon, and Tayah – iCande are being revved up as the next Spice Girls. While the rock-critic snobs may have dissed the Spice Girls for being superficial fluff, they released highly entertaining and sexy bubblegum pop tunes that proved to be an uplifting respite from all the gloomy grunge and gangsta rap at the time. iCande are following a similar formula, marrying various forms of dance music with R&B and girl-group pop.

That songwriter Kirsti Manna – who has penned a couple of country-radio hits – has either written or co-written nearly each track on SOPO has given these girls quite an advantage over their peers. Almost every cut on here is a single waiting to happen, from the ’80s-flavored Madonna tribute “Boy Toy” to the synth-heavy urban beatbox “Jealous” to the mellow soul grooves of “Bring Your Heart Around.” Eye candy? Make that ear candy as well.

It’s not all disco, either. “iCande” has driving guitars and “Meltdown” inches closer to modern-rock territory. The diversity of sounds later isn’t jarring as the songs blend together through the delicious harmonizing of the girls.


L. Michele hones Brooklyn-bred talent on slick EP

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell
L. Michele/L. Michele
With a proudly announced Brooklyn-based background, L. Michele was certainly raised in the right environment for the kind of cool-as-ice R&B that she specializes in. While living in the perfect place is never a guarantee of success, or a barometer of talent, there’s no doubt that L. Michele has honed her skills. On this self-titled five-cut EP, L. Michele displays everything that she’s capable of, from sexy, easy-does-it R&B (“Could It Be”) to piano-painted soul (the aptly titled “Love”) to Beyonce-esque urban pop smarts (“1,000 Words”).
The grooves here don’t overwhelm her; often producers of independent R&B artists are so insecure about the singing of their prodigy that they do too much to color what they perceive as limitations. That doesn’t happen here. L. Michele is given the space to breathe, to strut her magic. The finest track is “I Can’t Be,” which shows already shows developing maturity in a bright young thang.

Zanya Laurence reaches Alicia Keys highs on ‘Soul Theory…’

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Zanya Laurence/Soul Theory…

The widespread influence of Alicia Keys cannot be measured anymore; however, only the artists who step beyond the conventions of R&B could be considered rightful heirs to her throne. Thankfully, Zanya Laurence is someone who is seemingly inspired more by Keys’ creative ambitions than her trademark style. That is how the best musicians develop, to absorb what has gone before and make it your own.

Like Keys, Laurence delivers a diverse menu, mostly light R&B sprinkled by smooth jazz, acoustic pop, and neo-soul. On “This Is My Life,” Laurence’s passionate voice forms an intimate bond with the piano, nearly becoming a single instrument. Her singing is both sweet and bittersweet, sometimes playful as on “Lose My #.” I find myself becoming most attracted to the unplugged charms of “Sunday” and “It Won’t Be Easy,” as the acoustic guitars offer a rain-drop ambience to Laurence’s voice that is absolutely lovely. The driving “Rhythm” is as close to hip-hop as Laurence gets here but this slickly produced and well-crafted R&B CD will have fans of the genre in a slow-jam buzz that won’t fade away for quite a while.

Christian rapper Gleam Joel preaches from the mean streets


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Gleam Joel/The Call

Christian rap has, if you pardon the pun, received somewhat of a bad rap in the hip-hop community. A large part of this is because there’s so much mediocrity in the genre, and the lyrics are often critical of the bad-boy rap lifestyle, making some people self-conscious. What Gleam Joel has done on The Call is bring the streetwise authenticity of rap and fused it with a Biblical message. There are some heavy beats here, such as on the title track which slams hard against the pavement. Yet what Gleam Joel is trying to convey is incredibly positive. He returns to his old gang-infested neighborhood, beaming with his newly-found discovery of the Word of God.

Gleam Joel is not being preachy. You get the sense, from the seemingly autobiographical lyrics, that he’s speaking from experience. When Gleam Joel is attacking drugs on “Life Is Short,” it’s not a simplistic Nancy Reagan-era “Just Say No” theme. He rails against the drug dealers that tear families apart, leaving kids dead in their wake. There’s no holding back in Joel’s words; they are fierce, honest, and brutally realistic.

I don’t know how some rappers will take to “Hip-Hop Is Dead,” which openly chastises the commercial and secular rap scene for their glorification of violence. Actually, Gleam Joel takes it further than that, slamming wanna-be gangstas for romanticizing thug life while they’re living the rich life and their fans are dying on the streets. This is intense and very real music; whether you’re Christian or not, you will be affected by it.