Toronto’s Melanie Fiona may very well be the brightest and most colorful voice of the new young establishment of R & B. Her debut The Bridge, which ranges from breezy to intense and consistently eccentric, is an exploration of the power of and tribulations associated with being in love. The album positions her well as the pop trending voice to watch for soul music’s future. However, that may be the only future trending statement regarding her success. So much of where this album succeeds is in its recollection of the history of urban soul, and Fiona’s note perfect recitations thereof.
Radio lead single “Give It To Me Right” takes psychedelic rock legends The Zombies’ big winner of 1968, “Time of the Season,” and retains all of the furtive sensuality, while changing the subject matter into a yearning yarn of romance. The track is a fantastic standout, and is a production that clearly defines the sonic effect she absolutely intends for her career. The warmth of the sample absolutely invites the listener into her sound, and the single, which dropped earlier this year, has definitely left many wanting more. And, there certainly is more here to give. Follow up, “It Kills Me,” is a wonderful ballad that showcases Fiona’s note perfect phrasing and abilities with a lyric, as the song tells the story of missing a lost love that is running out on the town leaving her alone. Given the subject matter, I fully expect this to be a staple of urban radio playlists heading into the holiday season.
Melanie Fiona ultimately succeeds because she’s a coy, cute, semi-empowered everywoman. Where Jasmine Sullivan, by telling a mate that she’d “bust the windows out your car” became a superhero to the average female, Fiona’s all about showing empathy and sympathy here, opting to be the woman who thinks twice instead of acting out, making her a heroine for the woman whose quiet confidence is her gift to the world. On a musical level, her album makes itself a constant trip into happiness by being a remembrance of everything lost in music from the heyday of R & B. While this would make some believe that this is a rehash of the Amy Winehouse method, Fiona’s joy heats up these tracks in a way where Winehouse’s masked misery gives something like “Valerie” a jazzy Motown revue feel. Fiona aspires and succeeds in being the real deal.
“Monday Morning” has a Hall and Oates recalling Philly midtempo swing that, even in the face of a track about leaving a cheating mate, Fiona’s voice in tandem leaves you believing that she’ll leave, head upright, stronger than ever. “Please Don’t Go (Cry Baby)” recalls every ounce of Motown Funk Brothers soul with Diana Ross and her Supremes joining in place, the bright pop of the track something we haven’t seen out of many not under the realm of “blue eyed soul” in quite some time. “Walk on By” recalls Memphis Stax, as a backing band that’s note perfect Isaac Hayes Movement backs Fiona in a southern fried ballad here where her voice oozes Mavis Staples esque warmth. “You Stop My Heart” goes doo wop, a rich sample of Frankie Avalon’s 1959 smash “Venus” mixed with Fiona’s deft ability clearly through knowledge and study of the style, makes the simple love song a definite radio winner.
The album though is not completely perfect, as when deviating from the classic pop/soul formula, especially on tracks like “Priceless,” which is a sad attempt at copying the success of Alicia Keys’ “No One” due to the fact that Fiona certainly has the vocal strength to meld with the insistent piano. “Sad Songs'” calypso feels empty and wanting when compared to the joy through luscious instrumentation found everywhere else on the album.
The Bridge certainly does not provide a new sound, but a refreshing one on the musical landscape. It’s in her talent and clear experience and devotion to not the subject matter of the lyric, but to the aesthetic of the sound that makes her a standout worthy of appreciation. She’s an old soul in a new millennium. Not the first, but certainly having the potential and gifts to be one of the best.