Heather Powell’s first album, Believe it to Life is an impossibly positive and uplifting work. It is possible the lounge jazz and do-wop singer from New York may have been in a really happy place in her life when it was released, but Believe it to Life seemed to lack an element of true emotion. A Haze of Grays and Blue, Powell’s second album, seems to have more emotional diversity in the lyrics, and eventually sees Powell break through her own limits to create true vocal emotion as well.
Heather Powell definitely has flawless vocal technique, as she more than likely has been classically trained. She has the ability to project to the back of the house with pitch-perfect accuracy, a skill only seen in well-trained opera and musical theatre singers. An unfortunate side effect of this level of skill is that the emotional projection can be sacrificed in favor of technique. This is the case with most of the songs on A Haze of Grays and Blue, though it is clear with her lyrics that there is something very emotional and personal Powell wanted to connote. Unfortunately, with the exception of her backing band, Powell fails to connect this same emotional energy musically.
This disparity is apparent from the very beginning of the album with Unexpected, a song which sees Powell’s sunny disposition from her first album returning. The next song, Black and White Thinking, has lyrics which are a little sexy and smoky, thus making it the first track where Powell’s tightly-reined technique starts to relax a bit. Not enough to really capture the relaxed quality of good lounge jazz, however, this seems to be the trend throughout the album. Powell often seems to get in her own way with technique and never fully lets her guard down in this album.
Fear of seeming vulnerable may also be a limiting factor to Powell fully achieving a genuine-sounding vocal tone through most of the album, but in the closing track listeners will be treated to a pleasant surprise. See Me, a highly personal and somewhat philosophical offering, finally cracks Heather Powell’s icy vocals, and true emotion finally pours forth from her voice and her heart. It is a rare thing to capture any singer in such an emotional space, and it seems with this song Powell has finally gotten out of her own way to let that vulnerability shine. This is the missing element the rest of the album was lacking.
With its final song, A Haze of Grays and Blue finally achieves real passion, and thus turns Heather Powell into a soulful, passionate singer herself. The thing that separates a great singer from a good singer is that spark, that connection to one’s emotions, which not only connotes feeling, but actually changes the timbre of that singer’s voice. If Heather Powell continues to tap into that raw emotion in her future ventures, there is no doubt she could achieve success in many musical arenas. A Haze of Grays and Blue is available to stream on Powell’s Soundcloud page and will be available to purchase on her CD Baby page shortly. Both links are listed below in “Sources.”
Review by Layla Klamt