One of the perks of editing Blues Bytes is the chance to learn about
exciting artists with whom I'm unfamiliar. One such
artist is San Diego blues/soul/jazz singer Whitney Shay, one of
the most powerful vocalists I've heard all year. Graham Clarke reviewed
Ms. Shay's most recent album, A Woman Rules The World, in our
October / November issue, and I quickly added this CD to my wish list.
I was so taken by her singing that within minutes of listening to A Woman
Rules The World I went online to download her previous disc.
That brings us to this review of Soul Tonic, released in 2014,
on Stat Records. As much as I enjoyed Shay's latest, I like Soul
Tonic even better. Like the title suggests it's more soulful,
earning her frequent comparisons to the recordings of the late, great
Etta James. Shay teamed up with producer Archie Thompson on this
collection of five original compositions and seven well-chosen covers,
bringing in some powerhouse musicians to round out the session.
Soul Tonic opens with a fun soulful tune framed by a '60s girl
group sound in "I Can't Shake It," an Etta James tune with a strong horn section and solid
backing vocals. The mid-tempo version of Candi Staton's "I'm Just A Prisoner (of Your Good Lovin')"
follows, giving Shay a chance to stand out with more tortured soul
vocals while the gospel-ish background vocalists lay down the foundation
for Shay's angst. I also liked the title cut, "Soul Tonic," with its
Latin beat and creative backing instrumentation.
Shay's vocals really shine on the Isaac Hayes / David Porter slow,
soulful ballad, "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)." We then get
a treat in Shay's version of a song done decades ago by Sarah Vaughan
with the Count Basie Orchestra, but here "You Go To My Head" gets a ska
backbeat similar to some of Amy Winehouse's recordings. The hard-driving
"Let's Do This Thing" stands out most for a hot sax solo partway
through the number.
Perhaps the highlight of Soul Tonic is the extended version of
"Black Coffee," a slow, late-night jazzy tune that brings a film noir
vibe. Shay's vocal on this cut is outstanding. San Diego blues stalwart
Nathan James joins in on guitar and vocals on "No Good Lover,"
leading into what is my favorite number, a cover of the Charlie Rich
classic "Behind Closed Doors." You've all heard Rich's country version,
but wait until you hear the wallop of soul that Shay gives it!
Wrapping up the album is the soulful "Guilty As Charged," Shay's
sassy blues vocals on "Game Called Love," and finally "Just When I Thought I'd
Seen It All," another girl group number that features nice flute
accompaniment by Holly Hoffmann.
If I could go back and update my 2014 Top Ten list, I'd be sure to
have Soul Tonic on it. But I'm just glad it's now in my library. Shay
performs quite often around the
San Diego area which is only a six-hour drive for me, so I hope to see
this exciting young singer in person very soon.
--- Bill Mitchell