CD Review: Felicia Finley – Great Mood For a Tuesday (Bentley Productions)

When I first received this CD I was sorta impressed by the whole package. Great looking cover with an alluring picture of the artist, intriguing title for the album – I could see this album sitting on the “just released” rack at my local record store and not think twice about it as it looks like it would belong there. But you remember what our parents always taught us about about books, covers and not to judge any of them until you look inside. Or something like that. So, even though I started off impressed, I decided to reserve judgment until I actually listened to Finley’s music to see if a lot of gloss had been applied to tart up something that wasn’t up to par. It wouldn’t be the first time an artist or band had put a ton of money into how something looked just to cover up music that was sorely lacking any quality at all.

So, let’s see, shall we?

Upon perusing her bio, I noticed her credits include a lot of Broadway experience. While impressive, that can be good or bad for a singer trying to break into the pop music market. While being a singer on Broadway most likely means you have had substantial classical vocal training and have an excellent voice bursting with projection and power in order to translate to the back of a packed house, I have listened to many singers from Broadway try to translate their talents to the pop world and it often does not work too well. In a theater environment, especially Broadway, you are usually taught to overdo a bit and play to the “cheap seats” so they can still “get” what you’re doing even though they are in the back. In other words, sometimes these types of singers lack subtlety and try to overpower the song or over-emote. The goal when putting out an album is to get the song over, not to show the average person the full power of your voice. Most people just want to hear a good song and don’t understand the context of what a singer is doing and how and why their doing it. Making the song the best it can be while inserting your own personality should always be first priority, then maybe work your unique vocal stylings in their somewhere as a sort of signature thing, but without overdoing it.

Thankfully, save for the first song, Finley seems to “get” it.

The first song starts out with a burst of bristling rock and roll with a slightly retro sound and pounding drums that screams “’80’s hard rock” and I am thinking I am about to hear something akin to Pat Benatar or Joan Jett, which would be very old school but still tres cool. Not quite, but closer to Benatar, who was also a classically-trained singer. While Finley doesn’t do too badly, she uses all of her Broadway voice on the song and kind of overshadows and overpowers the song itself, which is tougher than you would think as the music is pretty rocking. This is something that a better producer or maybe vocal coach could have helped Finley with. It is easy (a little too easy on this song) to hear Finley definitely has the pipes. She has one helluva voice. It’s just that pop songs today even have the great singers using less than their full voices. For example, back in the early ’90’s Mariah Carey would have used her full voice to sing a song. Today, that doesn’t happen as the top producers sort of limit a singer’s range for both effect and because that is the style today. Listen to Carey’s last album, or just her singles. You will hear the way Carey is using her voice is much different than how she used to use it. A hipper producer would have gotten Finley to do the same thing. If American Idol has taught us anything (and, sadly, it has) it is that the voice comes secondary to the whole package of personality, poise, etc. and just busting out at full throttle like that is overdoing it a tad and is just an amateur mistake that could have been avoided but makes the song sound too operatic or over-the-top. It’s not an audition to show your range – never overshadow the song, as wasn’t mentioned before. Save some in the can for later. Easy to fix though. Too late for this song, but better to have too much talent than too little. Britney Spears, I am looking at you!

From here on, though, Finley seems to get it vocally as the second song (Stories) is a slower, acoustic number starting out more like a country song but with louder drumming and more controlled vocals from Finley. It becomes an ’80’s style rock ballad, a female version of one of Great White’s big hits with the requisite soaring guitar solo. The third cut, My House Tonight is a more modern rocker in the style of Pink, with excellent singing by Finley. To me, this should have been the lead-off song to the CD and sets a better tone for a start. If the lead-off track had vocals like this, it would have been a much better song. Great guitar work finalizes this tune as excellent, rocking modern girl pop! Next up is the title track, and starts out as a moody acoustic number then become something like a more modern version of Alannah Myles Black Velvet (if you please!) and is very pleasing, actually. The following song, Closin’ Time, is not a reworking of the popular alternative hit of the ’90’s but a sprightly pop rocker decent enough on it’s own, but not as catchy though it has a nice swelling chorus that is quite rousing. Tired of Losing Sleep, the next song continues in the same vein. Blanket continues the streak of mid-tempo rockers with decent vocals. Listening to the song makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be more effective as a country song instead. The final song, Fire Escape is a raging rocker and is fitting song for the closeout of the CD, though it would have been nicer for another rocker on the album instead of so many mid-tempos in a row. Finley adds a sort of country edge to her voice on this one, though it is definitely a rocker. Maybe she’s trying for a Southern Rock approach. Either way, the song is good enough, though nothing outstanding.

This album really isn’t bad, except for some things that could be corrected fairly easily on the next go round. Finley’s vocals would be the first thing to fix. Reining them in a little would keep things more contemporary from a vocal standpoint and updating the sound of the songs would probably be next. They sound a little retro for what Finley should be aiming for. Unless she wants to go full balls-out ’80’s metal (which I wouldn’t advise as that’s come and gone with no revival in sight) I would have her stick to more of a pop framework. She reminds me of Pink in a lot of ways and although she doesn’t want to copy that (or any) artist, it’s obvious Finley loves rock music and maybe to contemporize it a little more and stick a few modern R&B touches in would translate well to her voice while still keeping the rock element, which Finley sounds very comfortable in, and excels. Maybe some different songwriting teams and producers could help Finley with these points. Finley has a marvelous voice and it’s a shame to have to tell her to rein it in, but it’s her theatre training that is at odds with what’s going on right now in the world of pop music. And as long as Finley wants to enter that pop world, she will have to make some changes. She has all the tools though, so it’s about refining her approach. The talent is there, now the framework needs to be tightened up and I would think Finley has a better than average shot to make a go of it.

www.myspace.com/feliciafinley

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Scott