Album: The Dana Owens Album
Artist: Queen Latifah
Label: Interscope

With this opus Queen Latifah sets aside her rap “crown” for a jewel-encrusted jazz-pop tiara. Tiara?! Yes, a tiara she deserves for the melodic, nostalgic opus she decided to label with her given name: The Dana Owens Album.

The artist is notorious for generating feminist controversy, but the only thing controversial about this album is Latifah’s hard departure from the hip-hop/rap genre. But jazz fans can rejoice. She spans a continuum from standards to R&B to the blues and more, but jazz this is, at heart—all selections are done in her own fresh style. The lush orchestral arrangements behind Latifah don't impose; much as Shirley Horn came alive for listeners in such a magnificent way when backed by an orchestra in Here’s To Life, Latifah raises eyebrows by keeping chill and jazzy throughout—not a bit of cheese to be found here!

The most serious eyebrow-raiser is “California Dreamin’,” arranged with a focus on Latifah’s beautiful voice. The gorgeous guitar work by Raul Midon works very well to evoke, respectfully, a bit of the era from which the tune comes. Between the castanets and the smooth string backgrounds, “Dreamin’” is easily the most laid back of all the selections on this eclectic journey through what the artist tells interviewers are the favorite musical memories of Newark, New Jersey-born Dana Owens.

Standards are represented here: “If I Had You” is done sweetly, without cloying—and swings nicely, thank you. Fathead Newman adds excitement with a breezy solo. On “Lush Life” Latifah's voice strains ever so slightly, violating the admonition she gives earlier in the album (on the cut “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”) that one should “never let ‘em see you sweat.” Given, however, the difficulty for any singer to bulls-eye that tune, she comes close. (An aside for those not familiar with the song, a young Billy Strayhorn wrote what is a definitively "adult" song of love, loss, drinking and the blues when he was only eighteen years old.)

“Moody’s Mood for Love,” featuring the composer on sax, is performed here lovingly, like putting on a favorite cardigan. It’s apparently a nod not only to the song but to the source: the late “Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker on WBLS radio during the 1970s and ‘80s in the metro NYC area. Some Arthur Prysock fans may be surprised that credit for the arrangement to “Close Your Eyes,” performed ever-so-soulfully with a fillip of jazz, thanks to a scat solo from Mervyn Warren, is given to a Peggy Lee recording. “Hello Stranger” replete with electric organ effects and “shoo-bop” vocal backgrounds is sung by Latifah in a manner so heartfelt and fresh it prevents the song from becoming a caricature of itself.

Browder and Darnell's "Hard Times" (originally on the self-titled album Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band) is yet another reminder that this album will be especially delightful and reminiscent for those of a certain age who grew up listening to AM radio in the U.S. Northeast.

This is a well-produced album. It's not "over-engineered," but exploits the latest in digital recording technology. The sound is clear and EQ is quite pleasingly flat. Also remarkable is the fact that the producers managed to gather together an impressive roster of incredible soul and jazz performers to participate.

Rap fans may be dismayed by this release, but fans of soulful pop and jazz have reason to rejoice and will find themselves playing this very approachable disc over and over again.

Track Listing:

1. Baby Get Lost (Leonard Feather)
2. I Put A Spell On You (Jalacy Hawkins)
3. Simply Beautiful (Al Green)
4. The Same Love That Made Me Laugh (Bill Withers)
5. Moody's Mood For Love (James Moody)
6. Close Your Eyes (Bernice Petkere)
7. California Dreamin' (John Phillips and Michelle Phillips)
8. Hard Times (Stanley Browder, Jr. and August Darnell)
9. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (Josef Zawinul, Gail Fisher and Vincent Levy)
10. Hello Stranger (Barbara Lewis)
11. If I Had You (Jimmy Campbell, Reginald Connelly and Ted Shapiro)
12. Lush Life (Billy Strayhorn)


Queen Latifah, vocals; Featuring Herbie Hancock, piano on "I Put A Spell On You"; Featuring Al Green, vocals on "Simply Beautiful"; Featuring James Moody, alto sax on "Mood for Love"; Featuring Mervyn Warren, solo vocal on "Close Your Eyes"; Featuring David "Fathead" Newman, alto sax on "If I Had You"; Produced by Ron Fair, co-produced by Tal Herzberg, except for tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 11 Produced by Arif Mardin, co-produced by Joe Mardin. Track 12 produced by Mervyn Warren.

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