Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Roxanna - Exotica

It’s the rare individual who has that perfect package. These are the artists that shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice” spend months searching for, trying to find not only the next great voice but also that person with the right look and charisma to take it to the next level. Rising singer-songwriter Roxanna is just such an artist.

Originally born in Iran and raised learning English from her musical heroes Olivia Newton-John and Julio Iglesias, the artist later migrated to Toronto due to the increasing strife between her home country and Iraq. College followed which allowed her to fine tune her English skills as well as develop her voice further, largely through her involvement in a choir which expanded her musical palette that much more.

But it was through her furthered education as a nurse that Roxanna truly found her potential in the most unusual of ways. Both in her training and in her budding career as a nurse, the artist witnessed firsthand the healing power of music, seeing her voice bring joy to a patient with dementia and lead her to eat while on another hand it aided a young man undergoing cancer treatments. And when a patient’s relative inquired as to why Roxanna wasn’t pursuing music full time, the stars aligned as that person stepped forward to pave the way for Roxanna to engage her dream.

The result of that winding road is the artist’s debut project, Exotica, and it captures the heart of the artist perfectly. Blending elements of adult contemporary, jazz, and Latin and flamenco rhythms, the album benefits greatly from the deft production of Mark Portmann (Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Barbara Streisand), carving out space for the real star of the show which is Roxanna’s rich and luxurious voice.

Things start out smooth and sultry with the Latin flair of “Only You,” an English version of the Iglesias hit “Como Tu,” and sets the standard for a theme that is recreated throughout the record as smoldering guitars and organic flairs of percussion steal the show. Tracks such as “Unforgotten,” a painfully personal tale of the artist being left at the altar, and the title track follow suit, the latter providing some sweeping strings and the opportunity for Roxanna’s voice to truly shine.

“Hello” carries those rhythms forward, blending them with hits of jazz fueled by some sensual trumpet work while “El Amor” is full on Spanish as the artist covers another classic from Julio Iglesias with passion. “Fresh” mines some spicy flamenco guitar and smoldering vocals from the artist as “Today” keeps the Latin sounds rolling with more amazing guitars and bold percussion, Roxanna letting the instrumentals hold sway this time out.

“Here With Me” boasts smooth trumpet work and a jazzy flair courtesy of Chris Botti while “Close Your Eyes” feels like a Celine or Streisand B-side, the arrangement rich and orchestral, Roxanna’s voice clearly up to the task. A lighthearted acoustic pop vibe colors “My Best Friend (Miko),” a playful track about the artist’s dog which provides some welcome texture as her cover of The Hollies harnesses more horns and emotive strings that lay a framework for the artist’s big vocals. Pop meets jazz on the smooth sounds of “Loved” and things get downright poignant on “Beautiful Rose,” a soaring ballad that honors Roxanna’s late mother, further accented by work from the Prague Orchestra and further soul from Botti.

With Exotica, Roxanna makes her first big significant step toward stardom. With her rich and resonant vocal tones and smooth phrasing accented by great production and solid songwriting as well, this record should go far toward pushing her to the  next level, a level that is in need of her strong perspective and sublime voice.

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