You could easily refer to Yolanda Rabun as a soulful jazz singer or a jazzy soul singer. One description you won’t use is overproduced. Rabun, her music director Thurman Woods, and the musicians who’ve been assembled to accompany her have created the ambience of a live show on Yolanda, Rabun’s third studio album. An exceptional stage performer, the southern songstress captured the concert experience in a superbly authentic way. Yolanda is patiently musical, fun, emotional, and, at times, funkier than a high school basketball game. Rabun deserves points for many of the scores here. Although it jams, not not every song is a slam dunk.
The album opens with a rocking cover of “Be My Husband;” Rabun and company take the methodically-paced Nina Simone classic and transform it into a more upbeat festival jam with church revival tendencies. Fronted by emphatic piano keys, guitar and bass licks, Rabun reminds one of a prime Ray Charles.
The LP’s best overall vocal performance happens on her version of Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love.” Rabun is so soulfully invested, her range here challenges every instrument to take their notes further. It’s got such a big stage feel, with its orchestral strings and lingering cymbals it impacts like a Broadway number, one deserving of an encore.
Also replay worthy is the first 23 seconds of “Set For Life.” Let’s be clear; the song’s enjoyable in its entirety, even though Rabun’s a bit too run-heavy in her verses here. Those first seconds, however, are a jazz enthusiast’s favorite dessert. Equally tasty are Rabun’s encouraged lyrics on “Hold On to Your Dreams.” She sings, “The sky is where I wish I could be for all time/It’s my destiny, to be, closer to the divine.”
Unfortunately, “I Hope You Dance” is not so heavenly; it’s not as fervid as the Lee Ann Womack original, and furthermore, it lacks riveting background vocals like the ones Brooks & Dunn provided on their version. On “Feel Like Making Love,” Rabun again relies too heavily on runs— which makes an already slow song drag—instead of sustained notes.
Despite a few flaws, there’s plenty right with Yolanda to warrant its addition to your album library. If you’re not lucky enough to catch Yolanda Rabun in concert, this is truly the next best thing.
—Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker is an urban and pop culture enthusiast. Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, the biographer, author, entertainment and celebrity journalist, and columnist is currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of weekly classic hip-hop reviews for Concrete Magazine’s Concrete615.com. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. He is also working on a book project with Liquid Arts & Entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog MrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.