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Vanessa Williams

The Real Thing

(Concord; US: 2 Jun 2009; UK: 6 Jul 2009)

On her Concord debut, Williams has evolved from the power balladeer of popular memory to a beguiling chanteuse. The album has very little to do with the Vanessa Williams of mid-‘90s adult contemporary radio. Instead, The Real Thing is brushed in sensual and sophisticated strokes that become Williams. While it’s an attractive package, it sometimes falls into by-the-numbers contemporary pop-jazz (the title track and the awkward “If There Were No Song” are the most egregious examples). However pat the production might be at times, Vanessa Williams graces the material with note-perfect prowess. Rex Rideout’s gorgeous arrangement of Barbra Streisand’s “Lazy Afternoon”, the charming jazz swing of “Loving You” (produced by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds), the haunting “I Fell In”, and an enchanting cover of Bebel Gilberto’s “Close to You” are stunning showcases for the crystal-clear qualities Williams’ voice possess. With additional production by Keith Thomas and Rob Mathes, The Real Thing suggests that Vanessa Williams, though not breaking new ground, is ready to ascend the throne as the queen of the Café Carlyle set.


Christian John Wikane is a NYC-based journalist and music essayist. He's a Contributing Editor for PopMatters, where he's interviewed artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Janelle Monae. For the past three years, he's penned liner notes for more than 100 CD re-issues by legends of R&B, rock, pop, dance, and jazz. Since 2008, he's produced and hosted Three of Hearts: A Benefit for The Family Center at Joe's Pub. He is the author of the five-part oral history Casablanca Records: Play It Again (PopMatters, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @CJWikaneNYC. 


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