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CD REVIEW

This is Who I Am

Heather Headley: The New Diva

By Allison Lewis
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR

This Is Who I Am

Heather Headley

RCA

Oct. 8

I’m not sure how This Is Who I Am made it into my “favorites” CD wallet. At first it was just a prominent, flavorful beat, a catchy, if not too remarkable, melody, powerful, trained, full-of-feeling vocals, and simple, yet true lyrics. It was good, yes, but the first time I heard it, I didn’t sense an explosion at all on the album. There was never a moment when the music came to some dramatic high point or climax. Still, that first time, it was good all the way to the end, and then, even better afterwards, developing into a craving for more I couldn’t help but give in to.

Then one night last week, I was in Boston with my headphones on, listening to This Is Who I Am walking in pace with the fast, jolting beat of the first song, “He Is,” and singing with the verse, “These words/ Are only/ Frosting on my cake.” It was perfect for the moment, the city and the night. I thought, wow, this is it. Not just studio-cut vocals and beat. It’s a new face for R&B: swinging, bold soul, and a taste of the islands. It’s a stubborn character and powerful voice that refuses to be ignored and demands the recognition it deserved -- making a place for itself in among my “favorites” CD collection.

This Is Who I Am is Headley's statement to the world. It’s the introduction of her fresh, remarkable sound to popular music. Headley gives gospel and soul a Caribbean lilt, and the result is one spectacular groove.

An R&B star is born. Heather Headley takes her place among the “it” girls in R&B: Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, and Alicia Keys, to name a few. Headley is here and now and in your face. Her vocal ability is enormous and obvious. Her lyrics are simple and true to life, and she conveys them with honest dynamics. Above all, her music is real, not fake or forced like so much of today’s pop music. Thank God she hasn’t given her soul to the studio.

Growing up in Trinidad, Headley played concert piano and sang in competitions. Influenced by calypso, reggae, and other traditional music of the islands, the self-proclaimed “Trinimerican” brought her own style and talent to the states when she was fifteen. She performed in The Lion King on Broadway as Nala, the lioness. Then she was asked to perform in Aida, written by Elton John and Tim Rice. She won a Tony award for her role as that famous Nubian princess.

Making this album was truly a new experience for her. Very accustomed to performing on stage and connecting to a live audience, Headley found recording in a studio meticulous and difficult. She had to close her eyes and imagine she was performing for an audience. The result is passion-filled, a different color portrayed in each of the twelve stunning songs.

Headley worked with some of the finest R&B artists of today, such as great blues guitarist Keb Mo. Also, Chukki Starr, a Jamaican dancehall master, takes a solo in “Fallin’ For You,” co-written by Headley.

This Is Who I Am is all the fire and sexiness of a young, vibrant individual with a you-can’t-put-me-down attitude. I’m waiting to hear more, much, much more from Heather Headley. Until then, I'll keep listening to Headley’s heart and soul, twelve stunning songs with a story behind them. This Is Who I Am is explosive.