Debelah Morgan might well be America’s next golden-voiced diva, a la Whitney and Mariah. Blessed with a five-octave range, she’s undoubtedly got the chops. She was also somewhat of a child prodigy, starting piano lessons at age three, performing her original compositions at age eight, and winning the Miss Black Teenage World pageant at 15. That impressive resume and her two previous albums, however, have not yet led to chart success.
This time out, on Dance with Me, Morgan has taken an amount of creative control unusual for an R&B artist. She co-wrote every song on the album and produced it with her brother, Giloh. The Morgans exhibit strong pop sensibilities in their compositions and production, but don’t display a great deal of originality. At times, Debelah follows a bit too closely in Mariah Carey’s sizable footsteps. “Take the Rain Away,” for example, is undeniably infectious, but sounds an awful lot like Carey’s “Emotions,” right down to the “I am going to show off my incredible range” vocal histrionics. Morgan belts out the notes only dogs can hear several times on Dance with Me, which is a shame, since she sounds much better when she’s not over-singing.
Fortunately, Morgan also possesses a Carey-like ability to alternate between ballads and hip-hop tinged pop. She can easily swing from the role of vixen on the title track (“So baby when we hit the floor / You’ll be askin’ for more / Let’s make love and dance the night away”) to girl-next-door in “Think of You” (“I think about you all the time / You really blow my mind / I’m so glad you’re mine”). True, the lyrics are hardly poetic or original, but Morgan tries to deliver every note as if she means it.
The biggest surprise on Dance with Me is “Alright,” an original gospel song. While its spiritual tone doesn’t fit well with some of the other, sexy material, the song provides the best showcase for Morgan’s soaring, lovely voice. Unfortunately, it also proves how little the lightweight pop of the rest of the album serves Morgan’s greatest asset.
Overall, Dance with Me is an album full of pleasant if fluffy songs, several of which could provide Morgan with a hit single. Although her songs are not yet innovative or original, Morgan should nonetheless be applauded for taking control of her art, for this is something far too few female R&B artists do. At some point, Morgan might just deliver the goods, too.
// Notes from the Road
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