As a black woman who does not sing R&B, British soulstress Gabrielle will be an anomaly to most Americans. Her publicity team in the US must be scratching their heads, wondering how to promote a singer who is so difficult to categorize. To put it in the simplest of terms, though, Gabrielle is an adult pop singer. This may baffle American audiences, who rarely hear pop songs that aren’t sung by bare-bellied teenagers, but in the UK, Gabrielle is flourishing. The mixture of orchestrated pop, adult contemporary ballads, and slick soul on Rise, all held together by Gabrielle’s silky voice, has already earned the album a top spot on the British charts, and has yielded three top-10 singles.
Although she explores a number of styles on Rise, Gabrielle holds the musical mix together with her smooth, relaxed vocals. While Gabrielle’s voice doesn’t seem to have a great range, it is expressive and surprisingly versatile. That’s a good thing, because as a self-confessed fan of such diverse acts as Michael Jackson, Barry White, Adam Ant, and Wham!, she covers a lot of musical ground. It is to the credit of the singer (and her producers) that straightforward adult contemporary ballads like “If You Love Me” and “Should I Stay” don’t seem out of place alongside the contemporary R&B workout “5 O’Clock” and the gospel-tinged “Rise”. There are even a couple of orchestrated pop tunes (“When a Woman” and “Falling”) that recall the glory days of Burt Bacharach and Motown, and provide a great showcase for Gabrielle’s warm, throaty voice.
Rise has something besides the seductive nature of Gabrielle’s voice going for it. The mellow, intimate, songs on the album could easily have turned into sentimental schlock in the wrong hands, but are redeemed by Gabrielle’s producers—among them, Johnny Dollar (Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry) and Richard Stannard (Spice Girls). They lace Gabrielle’s traditional pop songs with hip-hop beats, strings, melancholy organ lines, the odd synthesized bleep, and gentle touches of acoustic guitar. Such flourishes help reconcile Gabrielle’s traditional pop and soul leanings to the current musical climate. Thanks to this fine production, Rise displays enough musical eccentricity to remain fresh and interesting.