By Kira Grunenberg | Published July 2019
Base a first impression of Sheléa on the sonic aesthetic of her sophomore album, Pretty World, and it’d be understandable to think of ’90s r&b artists like Whitney Houston or Janet Jackson. When modest Rhodes swings with Sheléa’s carefree, confident delivery, the expectation of bold singing akin to these icons only grows.
Yet, the connection dissipates as Pretty World reveals a variety of tones, rhythms and careful arrangements that lean toward soulful gospel (“Love Makes The Changes”), swinging jazz fit for an intimate lounge (“Make Me Rainbows”) and showtunes best suited to the soundtracks of classic Disney fare (“What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life”). Resonance with Disney’s love-laden musical repertoire isn’t entirely surprising, given the creative legacies of songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Their song selections for Sheléa here include the likes of an emotive Ennio Morricone ballad and the orchestrally lavish confessional “Will Someone Ever Look At Me That Way.” That said, Sheléa is able to disguise the common time signature of “Like A Lover” with the subtlest vocal actions, accenting lyrics on various fourth beats of the chorus to create an unexpected rhythmic pull.
Ceding control of song selections won’t immediately reveal artistic identity, but Sheléa’s performances here still make Pretty World plenty worth listening to.
Pretty World: A Tribute To Alan & Marilyn Bergman: Pretty World; Like A Lover; Will Someone Ever Look At Me That Way; What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life; Make Me Rainbows; Love Makes The Changes; I Knew I Loved You; Moonlight; I Won’t Believe My Eyes; You’re Not Alone; The Easy Way. (39:34)
Personnel: Sheléa, Stevie Mackey (7), vocals; Reggie Hamilton, bass; Gary Novak, drums; Eric Jackson (1), Ramon Stagnaro (2), Robert “Chalo” Ortiz (6), guitar; Raul Ferrando, strings (1); Kirk Wahlum (8), Brandon Fields, saxophone (4); Marcus Hodge (6), organ; Fausto Cuevas III (8), percussion; Justin Wilson (2, 6, 8), Alan Steinberger (9), Greg Phillinganes (11), piano; Stevie Wonder, harmonica (1).