In the Twin Cities, we have more than our share of successful songbirds across a wide range of genres. From the pop of Allison Scott to the soul of Jevetta Steele—with a lot in between—we have some truly distinct stylists. I recently listened to Scott’s debut album Wish on the Moon and a pair of albums by Steele: My Heart and Two Queens, One Castle (the original cast recording from the hit play). Scott doesn’t quite live up to her rising-star reputation. Steele, on the other hand, shows you why she’s ensconced in the area firmament and has attained international fame.
Allison Scott, touted as a can’t-miss talent, has Grammy-winning producer Kevin Bowe (Jonny Lang, Etta James) at the helm for Wish on the Moon. “Alison’s remarkable songwriting and drop-dead gorgeous vocals,” reads her press release, “channel the same spirits as Carole King, Patty Griffin, Laura Nyro, and other keepers of music’s true flame.” Not quite. Fact is, while Scott is a capable singer-songsmith, there really isn’t much here to write home about. More mimicking than channeling King, “Pennies in the Fountain” is a game effort that just doesn’t cut it. It’s too slick—right down to he vamping at the end. Scott works for, but doesn’t quite come up with, passion. The title cut is a plodding stab at country gospel. The pretentious “Crazy Game” keeps threatening to get off the ground but succumbs to stale posturing. It’s not hard to understand why Allison Scott has a strong following—it just takes an audience whose tastes run to what she’s doing.
In Jevetta Steele’s kitchen, she sings like cookin’ a song to within an inch of its natural life was about to be outlawed.
The wonderfully versatile Jevetta Steele shines on My Heart, a batch of jazz ballads with an emphasis on swing. Self-produced with her brother J.D. Steele, the album includes a gorgeous rendition of Nat King Cole’s classic “Destination Moon” and “The Day,” a splendid original by J.D. “Destination Moon” gets the big-band treatment par excellence, the essence of soul sophisticato. “The Day” is irresistibly sleek and saucy, fluid with Steele’s trademark smoothness and grace.
Two Queens, One Castle, also produced by the two Steele siblings, has Mixed Blood Theatre’s Jack Reuler on board as executive producer (Reuler staged the theatrical production). This handsome tour de force, for which Steele is joined by Regina Marie Williams, Thomasina Petrus, Dennis Spears, James Rich, and Austene Van, features the strutting, upbeat R&B gem “So You Wanna Know.” “So You Wanna Know” burns, reaching back to the days of true soul music, rich with contemporary flavor. Accordingly, it sits right in Jevetta Steele’s kitchen, where she sings like cookin’ a song to within an inch of its natural life was about to be outlawed. From first note to last, she grabs hold of this number and flat-out blows you away. It’s that way with the whole album, which moves from jazz to gospel to pop—a range of flavors, all of which find Steele quite comfortably airing her first-rate pipes.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.