[28 January 2002]
The real question is why should this gifted singer care enough about envious haters to sing a song about them, and then make that song the debut tune of her solo career? Maybe it’s just her way of throwing down the gauntlet to those who have crossed her in the past—Robinson establishes her territory with a little taste of bitchiness just because the people she’s addressing probably didn’t think she had the nerve. And maybe Robinson chooses to engage in this bit of sniping because she can—Robinson’s vocal talent definitely gives her bitching rights. The girl can sing.
Dawn Robinson can definitely count on a number of loyal fans to pick up her new CD. A lot of us have been waiting for Robinson to make good on her promise to put out a solo album, and the fulfillment of that promise comes none too soon. Now, more than ever, the urban contemporary market is mired in a sea of sameness. Dawn Robinson’s voice is a siren song, inviting us to demand more from our music.
To that end, Dawn offers a confident and eclectic collection of songs. Robinson prides herself on selecting a variety of songs that bridge several genres. The album is described as a “mesmerizing mix” of funk, soul, rock and R&B. The problem is that the album tries so hard to defy definition that it fails to be distinctive.
That’s not to say that the CD won’t be a success. Robinson could record “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and fans would buy it, because her instincts have always served her well. Robinson’s work with En Vogue and Lucy Pearl forever associated her with some of the most innovative moments in popular music. Then the savvy singer left En Vogue before that group faded into obscurity. Her abrupt departure from Lucy Pearl happened before the group’s fresh concept became stale, and simply left fans wanting more of Robinson. She walked away from both experiences with the kind of visibility that loads of intentional publicity fail to generate for other entertainers. The controversy surrounding Robinson’s past moves positioned her as a daring and edgy entertainer.
However, Robinson’s reputation for being a trendsetter is not so apparent on “Envious”. While the tune is catchy and even likeable, it is also a fairly predictable page from the R&B book. “Uh”, Dawn grunts sexily in the first few bars. “Uhh, uhh”. How many times are we going to hear this riff? In an arrangement which may or may not be accidental, the harmonies on this particular song are reminiscent of Robinson’s days with En Vogue. The song panders to the popular market, but does little to showcase Robinson’s powerhouse voice.
On this CD, Robinson lends her sparkling vocals to a number of nondescript tunes like “Envious”, but her voice is so gorgeous that nothing she sings is hard to listen to. And there are other songs on the album that are satisfying contributions, lyrically, technically, and otherwise.
The opening track on the CD, “Set It Off”, is a mellow and exciting groove that hints at what D-girl is really all about. “Where can we go to put it down? We both know that we want it now. Something ‘bout your sexiness, makes this girl want to get undressed”, exults Dawn in her limber, lovely voice. “Still in Love With You” is a funky jam that can make you dance even when you don’t want to. Dawn’s treatment of a slow tune called “I Can See It In Your Eyes” could tug a sentimental string in even the most hardened of hearts.
If the music on this album is not cohesive, and fails to make the most of Robinson’s vocal ability, it is not for lack of trying on her part. Robinson interjects gusto and energy into the tunes. Hers is an exquisite voice, capable of remarkable range. Robinson’s playful personality comes through by way of saucy lyrics and imaginative ad libs. Her approach to music is emotional and dramatic. She doesn’t just mouth the lyrics, she seems to feel them, giving her songs a sincerity that is seldom found in the urban contemporary field. More importantly, Robinson has an intelligent sound that somehow embodies the way independent young women feel about themselves: sensual, feminine, and empowered.
Dawn will be a welcome addition to the CD collection of anyone who loves vocal music. With this CD, as with her past projects, you get the sense that Dawn Robinson will always embrace the opportunity to experiment. She’s willing to try new things and put her name on the line as she searches for songs that work. Robinson has proven herself in the past; there’s no reason to doubt her now.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/robinsondawn-dawn/