Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Lisa Bell - The Italian Project

The old adage holds that one should not judge a book by its cover. And perhaps that adage should extend to include the title as well. Because, to those unfamiliar with the music of Lisa Bell, the title of her latest album, The Italian Project, could have listeners anticipating hits of accordion, perhaps some stellar operatic notes, or at least a decent cover of “That’s Amore.” So hopefully they’ll be wonderfully surprised to find that Bell’s record is anything but that, instead offering up a warm array of Americana tinged country and jazz notes, sounds that the artist comes by honestly.

Bell boasts a B.A. in Vocal Performance from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and has, for the past eleven years, set herself on a path toward expanding beyond the jazz standards she was known for to embracing a sound and style that encompasses everything from jazz, blues, country, roots rock, and more, all with a positive spin, believing that that sort of music truly does help to change lives. Along the way, she’s had the opportunity to perform with a number of powerful performers such as Christopher Cross, Boney James, and Oleta Adams, as well as guitar great, Stanley Jordan.

And along the way, Bell found her way to Italy where she not only gained fans with her powerful performances but she made friendships that would last a lifetime and add to her musical repertoire, owing to the creation of The Italian Project.

And, as mentioned before, while this bears a European name, the sound is all Americana. Bell harnesses the worlds of country, jazz, blues, and even adds a few Latin influences in order to create this world that she inhabits with her honeyed vocals. Bell opens the album in a warm, country fashion with “Bring the Love,” playful lyrics merging with the artist’s great vocal work, drawing to mind an artist and sound like Bonnie Raitt. It’s those more roots-flavored tracks that seem to find her at her best, as further evidenced by songs like “Come My Way,” colored by a more contemporary arrangement, and “Walk With Me” which reads like a Patty Griffin B-side. Add “Love Hurts” and the toe-tapping tones of “The Best of Me” to that and you’re assured that at least one half of this record is more than solid.

Yet, don’t let that lead you into thinking that the other half is any slouch. Rather, the remaining tracks find Bell erring more on the side of her jazz and singer/songwriter influences, which hearken back to her early days. “One Face One Race” bridges lyrics of unity together with a hybrid of jazz, Latin percussion, and some adult contemporary while “A Brighter Day” continues in that same vein, shakers providing some nice texture around Bell’s vocal delivery, recalling elements of Carole King and the like. “Quilt” continues those singer/songwriter elements, an acoustic arrangement providing a humble canvas for warm vocals as “From the Outside Looking In” and “I Can Be Anything” round out the record before closing up shop with the one real disappointment here, “Set It Free (The Boomba, Boomba Song.)”

But, one disappointment isn’t enough to detract from the overall promise of the rest of Lisa Bell’s The Italian Project. Filled with plenty of grounded songwriting, near-flawless vocals, and great musicianship that runs the gamut from country to jazz and back again, Bell has crafted an album that plenty are sure to enjoy.

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