Even before the buzz surrounding Kelly Price’s debut The Soul of a Woman subsided, it was apparent that she would fall victim to the recording industry’s privileging of the image of music over the music itself, at least in relation to R&B female vocalists. As a full-bodied women, who’s size and voice drew early comparisons to Jennifer Holiday (she of the classic Dreamgirls soundtrack and currently Ally McBeal’s fetishized muse), the apparent 110 pound limit for pop female vocalists presented a challenge for Price; the treatment of vocalists like Martha Wash and the aforementioned Holiday are past examples. The project’s lead single was an R. Kelly remix of the cut “Friend of Mine.” The remix and subsequent video for the song found Kelly and Price’s mentor Ronald Isley reprising their roles as “Kelly” and “Mr. Bigg.” The characters initially appeared in the video for R. Kelly’s “Down-Low,” a song in which Isley’s formidable vocals are featured. Kelly was brought into the project specifically for the remix, presumably because of the inability of Price’s management, at the time headed by Isley, to market a full-figured black female vocalist. Thus, in an industry predicated on the image of it’s performers as sexual icons, R. Kelly’s more marketable sexual persona could detract away from Price’s size on the one hand, while his reputation as a producer could entice audiences to the project, despite the fact the re-mix is the only track he that produced. Ironically, Kelly’s presence detracted away from Price’s own talents as a songwriter/producer as she wrote or co-rote all of the tracks on The Soul of a Woman and produced seven of 13 tracks. While the lead single successfully introduced the public to Kelly Price, the rest of the recording, with quality songs like “You Complete Me,” “Her,” the gospel tinged “Lord of All” and the title track, disappeared in the mix of competing releases, many of which featured female vocalists, short on talent, but long on svelte looks.
After a well publicized spilt with her management guru Ronald Isley and even more publicized weight loss program (presumably for health reasons), Kelly Price has returned with a new recording entitled Mirror, Mirror. The first single from the project “Love Sets You Free” which features among others, Dru-Hill, the underrated Playa, and Montell Jordan, appeared as part of the Hurricane soundtrack which was released late last year. The follow-up single, the one which accompanied the release of Mirror, Mirror was a remake of Shirley Murdock’s “Quiet Storm” classic “As We Lay.” The song’s video which features cameos by Shirley Murdock and actress Vivica A. Fox., is significant because it is one of the few times that full-figured black woman (Price and Fox) have appeared as the romantic focus of music videos. Written by the late genius Roger Troutman, Murdock’s original version “As We Lay,” is subtle and nuanced, whereas Price’s over-the-top version is in line her powerful gospel-like vocals. Unfortunately, “As We Lay” one of the few moments on Mirror, Mirror that Kelly’s takes any artistic risk apropos to her prodigious talent. Largely produced by Shep Crawford and Will Campbell and clearly geared to the same kind of “Ghetto-Pop-Crossover” audiences that have supported the likes of Deborah Cox and Monica in the past, Mirror, Mirror is often formulaic and “pedestrian.” The only real moments where Price lives up to her billing is on the R. Kelly track “At Least (The Little Things)”, “You Should’ve Told Me” which was written and produced by Paul D. Allen and J. Moss, the Sunday morningish (meaning a Hammond B-3 special) “Can’t Run Away” and her rendition of the gospel standard “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.” Ironically one of the most risky moments on the recording is the interlude “National Anthem,” where Price and Kelly bring new meanings to Sunday morning traditions, by singing a gospelized version of the National Anthem, replete with lyrics that describe Kelly’s desires to watch the “NFL on Sunday Morning.”