Posts Tagged ‘voice’

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2526: track by track

November 26, 2012

As stated in my previous post, my latest album 2526 is a loose diary of the last 2 years of my life, and focuses on love, and a range of facets of that emotion. I’m now going to take you through each track and tell you a little bit more about them all.

1. My Way / Sincerity

As one might surmise, these were originally two separate songs. “My Way” was a response to the burdens of parental love and pressure from those around you who know you best and suffocate you in their desire for you to achieve the best – at the same time as you love them for wanting the best for you, you can’t help but know that ultimately you’ll end up disappointing them. Try as I might, I could write a bridge for this song, and it was unfinished for ages. “Sincerity” came from wanting to write a song called “Sincerity”, and wanting to use the classic, hard-hitting beat from the remix to “It’s All About The Benjamins”; there seemed to be a real contrast between hard and soft.  But I couldn’t write a bridge for this song either, and it went unfinished for ages as well. One day, it dawned on me to just put the two together – the subject matter of the songs went well together, and while the overall tone of the songs is one of defiance and determination, there is also love and vulnerability. And most importantly, no bitterness.

2. Distance

This is one of my two favourite songs on the album. I was heavily into the song “I Miss You” by Beyoncé (from her masterpiece 4), and the night that I received the instrumental from Citizens of the World, I had been looking forward to Toby coming down to Bristol for the weekend (this was before I had moved to London) – we hadn’t seen each other for a while and I really missed him. Except that same night, he had called me to say that he probably wouldn’t be able to make it (in the end, he did). I was feeling melancholy and yet selfish as well, and the lyrics and melody to this song subsequently came in about 15 minutes. The lyrics so vividly capture the emotions I was feeling, and the vocal delivery is something that is supposed to be downbeat and yet sincere and heartfelt. The production is perfect. I am so grateful to have recorded this song.

3. Delete U

This song was written not long after Quiet Storm was done, and the piano intro is supposed to be reminiscent of Prince / The-Dream. I remember breaking up with one of my previous dalliances and just removing all trace of him from my life. It was intriguing that rather than tangible memories, we store a lot of initial information about friends and relationships digitally and so it’s all about “pressing delete” rather than throwing things in the trash. The use of terms such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” automatically date this song (probably to its detriment, although I personally don’t think it rings as unnaturally as the lyrics about getting off the Macbook and Facebook from Brandy and Monica’s otherwise-very-good “It All Belongs To Me”), but when I’ve dated my entire album through its title, it doesn’t really matter!

4. Important

I am well aware that this song sounds really similar to “Broken-Hearted Girl” by Beyoncé, but it’s not a bad song to use as a template and I really wanted the piano and drums to be straightforward – the vocals and lyrics are supposed to occupy centre stage in this song. I wanted to talk in an honest way about how it feels when you don’t know what is going on in a relationship, and whether your priorities and feelings really mesh with those of your partner’s. Are you on the same page? I left the song open-ended – we don’t know if the couple in the song stay together or break up, because although I personally tend towards the latter, the whole point is that life and love is not clear cut and the things we think we should do, we don’t always do.  Love is complicated.

5. Unforgettable

This song is a remix of / my spin on Drake’s “Unforgettable” from his first album Thank Me Later, and I loved the melancholy production. The chorus of my track I guess is a bit more reminiscent of the Nat King Cole classic; I wanted to have a rap song on my album, like “Armani Earrings” on Quiet Storm, but less incendiary and more vulnerable. The sample of Aaliyah just made Drake’s song so perfect. Mike has played such a big part in the last 3 years of my life that I didn’t know how to feel about it when he moved out of Bristol. Even though we worked together, it felt like we were drifting apart and I was sad about it. I wrote this song to encapsulate all of my emotions about the relationship with one of my best friends developing and evolving. Ultimately, I ended up moving a lot further away! I have grown up so much over the last 3 years, and I wanted to pay tribute to someone who had a considerable role to play in the man I am today. Friendship is love too, after all.

6. Phoenix Rising

This song evokes love as empowerment. This was the first track from Citizens of the World that I wrote to, and I had Nicole Scherzinger’s Killer Love album on repeat at the time, hence the namecheck in the first line. The production was ethereal, and I wanted a melody that really soared on the wings of the track. It was a challenging vocal to sing – particularly the end note! – but recording this track was really enjoyable because I got to do different and interesting things with my voice.

7. U Gotta Go

This song was much more fun and more upbeat – when I received the instrumental, it sounded so happy and pop! I immediately thought of “I Wanna Go” by Britney Spears – but I didn’t want to do something completely featherweight, so I flipped the song to make it a breakup anthem with some sassy lyrics about dumping a car in a lake that I cribbed from Tamia’s “Go” (aside: she is such a ridiculously talented singer!). I also wanted to make a poppy track that had some good vocal riffs in it – so I did that.

8. Sabo

This is my other favourite song on the album, because it is very personal and meaningful. Obviously, it’s addressed to Toby and it’s about him and us. I am so deeply, romantically and truly in love with him. He bought me a ring from Thomas Sabo for our 6-month anniversary, and I still wear it every day – I love it (black and silver are my favourite fashion colours, after all!) and I am so proud of it. I wanted to write a piano ballad the old fashioned way – chords and lyrics on top, no digital production – so that’s me playing the piano (the microphone isn’t great for recording the piano, so that’s why it sounds a bit honky-tonk). I was also in love with Beyonce’s “1+1” so I wanted to have some powerful vocals in the bridge, that really pulled out the soul that I wanted to express. The song turned out exactly how I wanted it to (honky-tonk aside), and I always knew it would be the end song / finale to my album.

Once again, I hope you enjoy the album!

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New music: Climax (One Take Vocal) (Usher Cover)

August 2, 2012

Hurrah, some new music! I have been slowly but surely getting into Usher’s new album Looking 4 Myself, and I realised that “Climax” suits my voice and falsetto well. So I had a go at singing it – recorded this vocal in one take! I am very pleased with it – 5 minutes’ work, not a flawless vocal but certainly decent enough!  I hope you enjoy, and I hope that this tides over those of you who are waiting for new music from me… It’s coming! xx

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Joss Stone – LP1 (album review)

August 11, 2011

LP1 is Joss Stone’s 5th album and her third consecutive attempt to reboot her career (after the stellar Introducing… Joss Stone and the defiant Colour Me Free!). This time, Joss is free of her previous record label EMI and is on her own imprint, Stone’d. So, if she is finally truly in control, why is this album so lifeless?
The good: Joss’ voice is richer, more textured and more soulful than ever. “Last One To Know” is starkly emotional, and compliments this voice with dramatic string crescendoes. On “Landlord”, a raw number which could have been recorded alongside Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Joss takes centre stage backed by nothing but an acoustic guitar.
The bad: There is little else positive to say about the album. Its major crime is that it is dull. Hook-free songs plod along with nondescript drums and guitars blending into an MOR blur. The lyrics are frequently awful: take “Newborn”‘s anticlimactic “What happened to this morning when I woke up and the world was… bruised”, or acoustic closer “Take Good Care”‘s “Take… good… care… / Don’t… push… the button.” Um, what? Joss tries to inject some life into proceedings by cussing to prove how ‘badass’ she is: “I’m a girl that don’t give a shit!” This swearing becomes tiresome, as it’s unnecessary bravado rather than genuine emotion.
If the songwriting on this album matched the quality of Joss’ voice, LP1 would be a much more satisfying affair. As it is, it’s going to take more than this inert stab at independence to revitalise her career. Perhaps Stone should consider working with a soul singer-songwriter like Jazmine Sullivan, whose vocal range and depth is similarly impressive but who has songs which thrill and impress, rather than bore. Joss is one of the UK’s best singers but this material is largely deplorable – and it’s a crying shame.

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believing in me.

August 10, 2010

Yesterday I performed three songs at the BAYS (Bristol Active Youth Group) 2010 summer party: “Russian Roulette” by Rihanna, “No One” by Alicia Keys and “You Lost Me” by Christina Aguilera. I was privileged that Ness invited me to perform, and it also gave me the opportunity to prove several things to myself.

  1. I hadn’t performed in front of an audience for a few years, and I wanted to know that I still had what it takes to entertain people and that my voice was still enjoyable for people to listen to.
  2. That I was capable of singing 3 relatively vocally-intense songs in succession, in front of an audience without messing up or without my voice failing me. Basically, that I could do justice to the material I had chosen.
  3. That I could still competently sing these songs despite the fact that I am now a smoker.
  4. That, despite my absence from performing, I could perform through the nerves.

I am happy to report that I proved all of these things to myself and I did a great job: everyone seemed to enjoy my performances and was very complimentary about my voice; one girl even said she wanted to marry me! (I think Toby would have something to say about that!) So that was lovely: I also enjoyed watching Ness dance to Lady GaGa, and there was an MC beatboxing who was fantastically talented… some of what I saw would put celebrity musicians to shame. It was touching to see young talent on display in my community, and moreover, a group of young people coming together to do something positive for their community.

Then, today I have just come back from my driving lesson. Despite the fact that it’s taking a lot longer to reach my driving test than I originally anticipated, I finally got roundabouts 100% sorted out (my last problem area) and now I feel that I will be capable of doing everything I need to in my driving test. Plus, my driving instructor was less of a fool this time than he was last week. So I am feeling good: this is the way I like to start a week, with a sense of positive accomplishment two days in a row.  I hope this continues, especially considering that the time has finally come to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday. I have to keep up my sense of self-belief, because this is how I can keep transforming and improving my life. 🙂

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run(a)way.

June 9, 2010

Monday night, after one more argument with my mother over the dinner table where I should really know better than to voice an opinion contrary to that of my parents’, even if that opinion is backed up by fact and knowledge from my university studies rather than jaded cynicism and hearsay, I decided it was all too much and left home for 2 days.  My father was ambivalent during the whole row, my mother decided I had a “problem” with her and refused to listen to her (despite the fact I expressed my opinions in a calm manner, balancing positives with negatives; these opinions were talked over or dismissed at each turn); that I had suddenly “flipped out” despite the fact that she, not I, was the one raising their voice; that how could my feelings be hurt by her, if she’d had her feelings hurt by me? As if only one person can feel wounded by another at any one time.  I said that over the course of the year, I had learned that the only time I ever argued or was in a toxic atmosphere was at home with my parents, that I have the ability to make friends time and again and therefore there can’t be anything wrong with me, that I would no longer let my parents make me feel ugly.  I left to give myself some space, and I am more than grateful to Toby and Mike for providing me refuge, and to all of my friends for understanding and for saying that I was right, and not crazy.

People say that “friends are the family you can choose”. Others say that “blood is thicker than water”.  It is true that I will never not love my family: my mother and I were inseparable during my early years and we got each other through the dictatorship, misery and abuse (verbal, mental, very rarely physical) my father wreaked on our lives.  I won’t forget that.  Neither do I hate my father, although he doesn’t love me: he’s never known how to be a father, but at the age of 16 I finally realised that hating him still meant that he had some power over me.  I saw him weakened after one too many accidents on his bicycle – watching my father crippled, being wheeled in a wheelchair, having to help him go to the toilet in hospital made me realise that his power was all an illusion, and that if I didn’t submit to his subjugation, there was little he could do to truly hurt me.  Since those epiphanies, I’ve been able to forgive him for my childhood, and at times I know that his lack of attachment to me makes him almost an objective source, and occasionally a better source of advice or confidant than my fiercely feisty but heavily biased mother (if I have issues and neuroses, I most certainly learned them from her).  He’s not a bad person and I don’t think he ever meant to be, he’s just imperfect.  My mother is imperfect too, and just as I rebelled against my father, I’m now fighting a battle to establish myself as an intelligent human being against and apart from my mother, who unwittingly (unlike my father’s deliberate past sabotage) threatens my intellect and independence fairly often.  Her timing is off however: I’m 24 and after university not once but twice, and a gradually-formed but steadfast collection of true friends, I’m stronger than ever.  So I won’t take shit from either of them. I don’t need to.

I came home this afternoon with some trepidation: as much as I am strong now, I’m not invincible, and if I had been kicked out I don’t know how I would afford to live elsewhere until my job at Cirencester kicked in (my first salary payment won’t come through until mid-September, and my bursary won’t keep me going until then, especially if I’m juggling rent with driving lessons and tests, which are indispensable at this point).  Financially, I just can’t afford to be out of this house; emotionally, if they said goodbye, I’d walk out and never come back because my pride would not let me do otherwise.  I’d be shooting myself in the foot, but I’d do it with resilience in my eye.  However, I’d rather not have to shoot myself in the foot 😉 My mother is giving me the silent treatment: even though I don’t think I was in the wrong, before leaving on Monday night I apologised for “getting heated”. My mother did not, does not apologise unless hell has frozen over or unless she’s actually not done anything wrong.  My father is pretending like nothing ever happened, and is playing piggy in the middle of our fury; because there are 3 of us in our family, one of us is usually stuck in the middle / left outside alone (delete as appropriate) while the other two bait and infuriate.  Usually, I’m the third wheel to my parents’ storms.  So I can understand my father feeling relieved that he’s off the hook for a little while.  My stubbornness, identical to my mother’s (I won’t lie: we have a lot of similarities and I have had to reprogramme myself to eliminate some of her neuroses and pessimism ingrained in my psyche at a young age – they’re not all gone yet), means that our arctic silence will persist at least a week or two.  I don’t want this, I don’t want to be locked in war, and yet as a child I always surrendered to the silent treatment.  Not only am I not in the wrong, but I have apologised for my foibles in the argument.  I have nothing else to say: my mother evidently feels she is impeccable.  So what else is there to say or do, other than go on and wait for everything to subside?

Once everything is financially stabilised, I will be gone from here.  It’ll take only a few months I believe: my life is slotting into place and in my mid-20s, it’s been long overdue for me to be out of home.  Returning from my undergraduate degree, it was really difficult getting used to living under my parents again; over the past year when I’ve been going to UWE, their relationship seems to have destabilised to the point that I prefer to be alone or out than endure the atmosphere.  Perhaps it’s partly just natural for me, as an adult, to want my own independence too.  It is within reach now, I just have to bide my time a little longer and keep looking to the sky. Hopefully, when I achieve my goals, with some perspective and space my parents will be happy for me.  And if not, then that’s okay too, because I will be happy for myself and I have enough people who care about me that I feel healthy.  I can do this 🙂

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Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (album review.)

May 23, 2010

I literally don’t know where to start with this review.  Comparisons have been made to James Brown (the lead single “Tightrope” has a funky, dirty bass and backchat with Monáe’s band), Judy Garland (“Oh, Maker” features a stately purity of voice in its verses, only to give way to a joyful exaltation of a chorus, and is one of the album’s highlights) and even Erykah Badu (Monáe sings with a knowing voice, sometimes sounding wise well beyond her years while not even connected to this cosmos).  But Janelle Monáe is undeniably her own woman: crazy hairstyles, performing in black-tie tuxedos, employing ethereal instruments coupled with double-time beats, composing her material in suites… It would be audacious enough if it didn’t succeed, if Monáe were above her station with this Metropolis, 28th century high-concept shit.  But she’s not.  Although at times The ArchAndroid feels a bit like it’s overreaching, the vast majority of it is exciting, mindblowing and more than a little bizarre.  This makes it one of the boldest releases to come out in quite a while.

I’m not going to attempt any detail of the story behind this album; it’s only vaguely important to the running order of the songs.  In very brief, Cindi Mayweather was an android who fell in love; the cyber-hunters were invited to hunt her down; she has since discovered the ArchAndroid helmet which displays the city of Metropolis on the top – yep, that’s the album cover above! – and has transformed from pariah to messiah for the robot population of Metropolis.  Monáe creates a textured evocation of this hyper-space reality within her music, and it’s appropriate that The ArchAndroid sounds nothing like anything else in current popular music.  However, its melodies are still catchy, its production tricks are still appreciable (although the music sounds far removed from anything Sean “Diddy” Combs would touch, Monáe is signed to his BadBoy imprint, whose releases normally display impeccable production values – if, at times, little else), and the meanings behind the inventive, often poetic lyrics (from “Say You’ll Go” – “Love is not a fantasy / A haiku written in Japanese”) go beyond the specifics of the Metropolis concept to speak more generally of love, society, and human emotions and situations.  In other words, Monáe hasn’t concept-ed herself into oblivion; the songs can still have meanings to each individual listener, which is important because we still need to relate in order to truly engage with the music.

Moving to the specifics of the music on The ArchAndroid, it’s a hefty album, comprising two suites that are much weightier then Monáe’s The Chase EP; that disc had three songs which were swift, exciting and irresistible.  The special edition had two extra non-concept tracks; a plea to the President for social consideration, and a beautiful, restrained cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Monáe may not be a vocalist in the same way as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has an extraordinary control of her instrument, and displays its versatility when songs require it (similar, in a way, to Toni Braxton or Sade).  On The ArchAndroid, Monáe alternately displays grace (“Oh, Maker”), subtlety (“Sir Greendown”), uninhibited release (“Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)”) and an old-school sensibility that fuses scat, Broadway and Latin rhythms (epic closer “BaBopByeYa”).  Suite II (the first suite of The ArchAndroid) is generally more immediate and accessible to the uninitiated listener: after a classical intro (although its concept hangs together flawlessly for most of the album, the instrumental interludes may be slick but they are still unnecessary filler!), Monáe gets straight down to business with the help of spoken word artist Saul Williams for “Dance Or Die”.  Beats fibrillate below Monáe’s haughty poetry, and before the listener knows it, the song segues into “Faster”, into “Locked Inside”…; before you know it, you’ve reached subdued ballad “Mushrooms & Roses” and Suite II is nearly over.

The seamless melting of one song into the next is a neat production trick, but one that we have seen before.  It has its risks, since the listener has to pay attention to his iPod, CD player or media player of choice in order to determine where one track ends and the next begins.  If the songs are dull, they risk totally going over the listener’s head.  Luckily, the majority of The ArchAndroid has enough memorable hooks, production tricks and bizarre sections to stick in the mind and merit repeat listens.  Suite II is far stronger than Suite III for this however; Suite III, although shorter, is much denser and ethereal. Although Suite II had some lovely slower material (“Oh, Maker” and “Sir Greendown”), Suite III seems weighed down by the lack of upbeat or midtempo songs.  “Make The Bus” is an ok effort but hardly lives up to the breathtaking pace of Suite II; “Wondaland” seems altogether too precious.  However, Suite III comes into its own as it reaches its conclusion: “57821” (the serial number of the robot Cindi Mayweather) begins to engage the listener with its subtle, undulating backing, before the majesty of closing tracks “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa” unfurls.  In all, Suite II is stronger and more addictive listening, but Suite III has its moments despite its more downbeat demeanour.

Why does it all work? It’s beyond me, as Janelle Monáe seems to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this album – in terms of lyrics, vocal approaches, production tricks, musical genres, concept… It’s a miracle that it doesn’t sound overblown, desperate or self-important, but for the most part – it doesn’t.  Only on “Wondaland”, “Mushrooms & Roses” and “Neon Valley Street” does Monáe sound a tiny bit like she’s faking, stalling while she scrabbles for a new idea with which to blindside us.  The vast majority of The ArchAndroid is not only severely impressive, but sounds genuine.  Which makes Janelle Monáe a hugely talented, innovative young woman, and one of the best new artists to emerge in recent years.  Take a listen to The ArchAndroid and prepare to be both mentally and aurally stimulated.

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Toni Braxton – Pulse. (album review)

May 7, 2010

The first album from Toni Braxton in 5 years comes following an abbreviated residency at Las Vegas, yet more record label disputes, health scares, a neat run on Dancing With The Stars and a separation from long-term partner Keri Lewis.  So one would assume that she has a lot of life material to draw on, material that might be evident in the singer’s new album.  Well, yes and no: Toni Braxton has stuck to her strengths, which are soulful R&B ballads expertly sung.  The lyrical content of these tracks betrays barely a whisker of what the singer has been through in the past 5 years, and to look at the singer she stands stately, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful for a woman of 40 years old.  Indeed, she still has that same sexy body she had 15 years ago, although now it is dressed with a more chic, age-appropriate veneer that effortlessly walks that tightrope between sexy and classy.  Nevertheless, Braxton’s creamy, rich alto has a slight bit more depth to it now; to paraphrase from her interview in Metro this week, she has the ability to channel her experiences (be they joyful or sad) into the texture of her voice, and this is what makes Braxton one of the most enduring and valuable singers to emerge in the last 20 years: you feel her when she sings.  On Pulse this is evident throughout, particularly when her voice is reduced to a low, husky whisper such as at the beginning of “Woman”, a cover of Delta Goodrem’s track from 2007’s Delta that improves on the original because Toni Braxton’s voice brings more depth to the lyrics (although Delta Goodrem’s own version was solid in itself, perhaps making this achievement all the more impressive), and the production ranges from subtle to soaring while never overtaking Braxton’s performance.

After more leaks than Ciara’s Fantasy Ride, it would be unacceptable for Pulse to be anything less than solid, considering the 25+ tracks we’ve heard from Toni Braxton’s recording sessions for the project.  For the most part, Braxton has chosen the strongest songs for the project, although bonus tracks “Rewind” and “Stay” add little value to the album and could have been replaced with successful “Ice Box” soundalike “Clockwork” and particularly “It’s You”.  These are just little personal gripes however, and don’t affect the fact that Braxton sings each of the 11 tracks on her album with impeccable aplomb; her voice cannot be faltered, whether she’s emitting attitude on the sassy “Make My Heart” (which again improves upon Blaque’s / Mis-Teeq’s “Can’t Get It Back”, being based on the same sample) or evoking vulnerability on standout closing track “Why Won’t You Love Me”.  It is surprising that this is the only track on Pulse that gives Toni a significant songwriting credit (“Yesterday” does credit her, but only along with 4 other contributors) considering her credits on The Heat and More Than A Woman; those two albums, while not perfect, were both cohesive and consistent – they felt like albums, not just a collection of songs.

And this is where my only main gripe with Pulse comes in.  Indeed, the album contains some beautiful songs – my personal favourites are first single “Yesterday” (although it sounds like Beyoncé’s “Halo”, it is strong and sincere enough to stand on its own two feet – unlike the version with Trey Songz, which suffers from a change in production that is at once overdone and bland), the aforementioned “Make My Heart” and “Why Won’t You Love Me”, “Wardrobe” with its clever man-as-outfit metaphor that somehow avoids sounding cheesy or forced.  “Lookin’ At Me” is a welcome uptempo that bumps convincingly and brings the sass out of Toni, and perhaps in the closing stretch of the album which is ballad-heavy, another uptempo of this nature might have livened things up.  Finally, “Hands Tied” is an utterly beautiful song in lyrics, production and vocals, and has an outstanding video to match – Toni Braxton dances in front of a troupe of attractive men, stands in an eye-catching black dress in front of an ornately carved table that I would quite like in my house, and locks eyes with the camera, singing and dancing and yet conveying the determination for love inherent in the song’s lyrics.

As I said before, there are no weak tracks, and perhaps my opinion is swayed by the sheer amount of material I’ve heard from the project – unlike classic albums Secrets, The Heat and More Than A Woman, the album feels merely like a collection of lovely songs than like an album.  Previous album Libra suffered from this same problem, although Pulse has more of an identity, hewing close to soulful ballads and eschewing popular production tricks; unlike a couple of Libra‘s tracks, this album won’t sound dated, to its credit. But something intangible makes some albums more than the sum of their parts, and Pulse just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi.  In comparison with Monica’s recent Still Standing (check my review here!), both albums are a welcome embodiment of “real” R&B, both are classy efforts that dispense with unnecessary featured artists and emphasise the singers’ strengths.  Neither album possesses any repellent tracks, and all the material is beautifully sung.  But if I had to choose between them, Monica’s would win out because something about it feels more sincere, more cohesive; something connects with the listener more.  I feel bad that I can’t quite put my finger on what that “something” is, but it means that while Pulse is certainly solid and worth purchasing, as a whole it isn’t  exceptional.  Nevertheless, some of its songs are exceptional, and it is wonderful to hear a singer relying on her vocal ability and strong songwriting rather than gimmicks or collaborations with flavour-of-the-month artists.