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.
// Notes from the Road
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