Much ado is made of the hip-hop heydays. For a decade around the same span (say, 1985–1995), what was touching female R&B? Let’s talk about it. We had legendary anchors the likes of Gladys Knight, Patti LaBell, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Phyllis Hyman, Stephanie Mills, Chaka Khan, Teena Marie; familiar voices anchoring groups—Mary Davis (SOS Band), Angela Winbush (Rene and Angela) and Rene Diggs (Starpoint)—putting forth classic performances; sophomores Anita Baker and Sade, looking to solidify their Hall of Fame potential; and a slew of new voices introduced—Meli’sa Morgan, Mikki Howard, Karyn White, Lisa Fisher, Rachelle Ferrell and Whitney Houston—looking to ensure that the tradition would continue and thrive. Sweet memories. If only we could turn back the clock and make it like it was, the way it used to be.
If you’re attentive to that time period, you’ll notice that last line was in recognition of what would seem like a glaring omission to the homage payed to the brilliance of the voices of that era. Her compassion, talent and voice coupled with a very accomplished career, however, makes it impossible to forget Miss Regina Belle. Gold and platinum plaques adorn her wall, and more importantly, she has one of THOSE songs. The multi-Grammy award-winning duet, “A Whole New World,” with Peabo Bryson holds a quality worth way more than any trophy can symbolize. Belle said, “This song has literally allowed me to be a part of the fabric of people’s lives. That helped me to see based on the gift that God gave me, what I can offer people and that’s huge.”
Not content to rest on past laurels, Belle makes a return of sorts. After nearly 15 years, she reenters the R&B realm with her newly released project “The Day Life Began” (Peak Records/Shanachie Entertainment.) Her rationale for the return is simple: “Music is power. Music can make people change the way they look at life. I take accountability and responsibility of that now more than ever, and I still have something to say. When I stop having the need to express myself, then I won’t do it anymore.”
As the title would suggest, her need to express touches the common denominator of all people. We all have that epiphany at some point. From her personal viewpoint, she offers how she relates to the title track. “The first time I prayed and I felt like God heard me, I felt like my life had just begun,” she said. “Then there was the day I discovered the she-ro in my mom and the first night that my brother and I decided to make music at 3 a.m. And we did!” The sentiments are applicable across the board when she adds, “The birth of a baby, the day we found the person who completes your life. The list goes on. I really thought this title was appropriate.”
The direction of the album is co-steered by the production tandem of The Heavyweights. Although a bit apprehensive at first, she feels in retrospect that a better selection couldn’t have been made. “I knew of their work in the group All 4 One, but I wasn’t really familiar with their work as producers,” she shared. “Nor was I completely assured in my spirit that it was going to work for us to make music together.” After I few phone conversations her reservations assuaged. “When you work with an artist that’s been in the industry as long as I have, it’s important for the producers to bring out the best in what that person has to offer as opposed to bringing them over into their (the producers) world. I got the sense that they understood the importance of what I do and how I look at what I do, and I can honestly say that those two brothers met the challenge and exceeded my expectations.”
The end result isn’t a radio formulaic, hit-driven concoction, but rather a continuum of a storied past and still fruitful future. Avid followers will pick quite a few of the newer titles to place snuggly into Bell’s greatest-hits catalog, as her ability to provide inspirational R&B songs that reveal her stirring emotions remains intact. Her goal was simple: “My grandmother made it a point of telling me not to embarrass the family. She would say that I hadn’t gotten to where I was without having stood on the shoulders of family members who prayed and paid dues. So, If I cannot identify with the songs, and if the music does not move my soul, make me feel better, take me up when I’m down or higher when I’m up, then I don’t want to record it, play it or sing it!”
Fans partial to the art of romance will find jewels in “You Saw the Good in Me,” “A Night of Love” and, my personal favorite, “Imperfect Love,” a real grown song for real grown folks’ music. “This song is a combination of my musical sense of melody and my husband’s simple genius,” said Bell. “I was sitting across the table one morning putting lyrics together and my husband was sitting beside me doing a cross puzzle. He heard where I was going and he said you’ve already done that song 100 times over. When you think of relationships, what do they really consist of? Two people coming together with their experiences and baggage. The best of those relationships find a way to make it settle in and work. That’s the song you need to write. So I tore up what I had and what’s on the album came about.”
It is only fitting that Belle’s musical journey closes with a bit of a risk. “I don’t just have the gift of music,” she said. “I also study it. So I had a chance to venture out and do country. I always loved and respected the genre because of the stories they were able to tell, but never, ever done it.”
The riveting Steve Diamond/Allen Shamblin “Be Careful Out There” marks her first foray into country and is sure to pull at the heartstrings of every parent who hears this poignant number. Regina opened up about this moving song, which explores the delicate balance of loving and letting go. “I wish I had written it because it speaks volumes to me at this moment when I’ve become an empty nester,” confided Regina. “The words say, ‘go on and fly but be careful out there,’ have never hit home as much as they do now. Even our president has spoken of letting his children go. So we can all meet on common ground. This might be my new ‘If I Could.’”
Although the dates aren’t yet solidified, show support for the new project is being planned and New York is definitely on the agenda. As for now we can look to March 16 to March 18 for the first dope music festival of 2016, with “Jazz in the Garden.” There Regina Belle is among such other major players as Usher, Fred Hammond, Najee, Alex Bugnon, Michael McDonald and a growing list. After two feet of snow, Miami sounds right! Check out the site jazzinthegarden.com for the lineup and ticket information.
Over and out. Holla next week. Until then, enjoy the nightlife.