SOFT AND GENTLE
The soft, gentle song styling of Rita Lim focuses on her light, breezy vocal delivery set amidst piano, feathery bass and percussion, and guitar. The tracks that make up her album The Secret Of Life originate from a handful of well-known artists such as James Taylor, Sergio Mendes, Irving Berlin, and The Beatles. Each of the songs are slow-paced numbers that drift happily along; some harboring a late night, martini feel, and some reminiscent of a lazy afternoon spent swinging in a hammock in the backyard.
All of the cuts on the CD have the same pace and feel. Emanating a smooth jazz sound, Lim does her best work on the title track, written by James Taylor, on Cole Porter’s “In The Still Of The Night”, and on a couple of originals entitled “By My Side” and “Cry Anymore”. It’s on these particular four songs that Lim’s vocals seem to dust the piano and accompanying instruments magically, bringing into light her beautiful voice. Sort of in the same vein as Diana Krall’s song craft, Lim sounds as if she’s smiling throughout her songs, making the album a true “feel good” project.
On other tracks, such as “I Wish You Love” and “Where Do You Start”, Lim’s passion can be heard in her melodies and in her sincere approach to her singing. It’s not hard to hear the influence that past jazz singers have had on Lim. Although she’s dabbled in R&B, pop, and even country, her L.A. upbringing and knowledge of jazz and other musical styles in that periphery can be heard throughout her output. On “It’s Hard For Me”, she sounds an awful lot like Olivia Newton John or Maria Muldaur, which is a compliment to the utmost degree when it comes to being compared to other female vocalists.
Aside from the music itself, the CD is well put together from a technical standpoint. Its arrangement and production is top notch, and the sound is crisp and vibrant. The choices of the songs she’s chosen offer a wide assortment of style as well. On “Shower The People” for example, which was a hit for James Taylor, this familiar classic is well-sung in Lim’s own passionate style and heartfelt flair.
If there is one thing to take away from this album, it wouldn’t be what’s there, but what’s “not” there. It would be interesting to hear Lim change it up a bit…maybe throw in a couple of upbeat numbers near the end, or spread out a few jazzier tunes here and there. It wouldn’t have really ruined the theme or feel of the set, but it would have expanded Lim’s vocal range and show off other styles that her voice could evidently tackle.
All in all, The Secret Of Life serves its purpose as a sketch of Rita Lim’s singing talent and love of the genre. This is the kind of album that the listener pinpoints when they know the time and mood is right. Her music sets the tone and keeps it in a certain shade throughout the course of the fifteen tracks. If you’re in the mood for something soft, romantic, and easy on the ears, then this is the album to reach for.
Artist: Rita Lim
Album: The Secret Of Life
Review by Matthew Forss
The laid-back, easy listening style of Rita Lim is captured eloquently on The Secret Of Life. The LA-born singer draws inspiration from bossa nova, jazz, pop standards, and classical ambiances. The fifteen tracks contain original and cover tunes with Rita’s own carefree singing style that is as effortless as a gentle wind blowing thru swaying palm leaves. Rita’s duties as singer, arranger, and producer showcase a range of talents.
“Secret O’ Life” opens with a few lazy, piano notes that wax and wane between twinkling sounds of a delicate touch and a richer sound with a jazzy, lounge feel. Rita’s relaxing voice leads the song with a little brushy percussion indicative of a classy jazz song from the 1950s or earlier. The lack of additional instrumentation or vocals does not produce a boring result. Rita’s vocals are relatively fluid, but not smoky overall. In fact, the vocals resemble the female singers from The Corrs. At any rate, the James Taylor cover song ends with a twinkling, metallic sound that is quite dreamy and magical.
“Lazy Afternoon” begins with a cackling of shore birds and ocean waves crashing ashore. The waves are interrupted by metallic chimes, breezy percussion, sparkling piano tones, and Rita’s lackadaisical delivery. The song contains a jazzy, bossa nova segment with lively euphonium or xylophone-like tones, which give the song a slightly Brazilian tinge. The music is instrumentally-entertaining with a few symphonic washes, twinkling tones, and Rita’s characteristic vocals that are aided by other back-up vocals.
“So Many Stars” is a Sergio Mendes song that opens with a sparkling set of xylophone tones and a jaunty percussion with a pop standard melody and classy rhythm section. The bossa nova ambiance of the previous track is still very evident throughout. Sweeping piano notes and a cruise-ship atmosphere is at the forefront of this song, but it is not a negative. Rita solidifies a jazzy/pop structure with vocals that are not strained or unnecessary.
“Till There Was You” opens with bird chirps and a jazzy piano opening. Rita’s soothing and swaying vocals lead the charge. The bird chirps appear throughout the song. Light percussion accompanies the piano and vocals. A scintillating and delicately-played acoustic guitar provides a little island presence, but the song is firmly rooted in mainland charm. The song ends with bird chirps. The bird sounds may be a little intrusive, but they set the calming mood of the song without too much interference.
“Cry Anymore” opens with a jingly keyboard beat, pop percussion, and a Madonna-esque vocal line. The back-up vocals add another musical dimension to the musical melee. The steady beat is not a dance beat, but the song is more aligned with alternative pop elements that mirror the music of the 1980s or early 90s. The nostalgic song is a departure from the other jazz and pop standard-infused gems. Whether it is a ballad, pop song, or alternative song, “Cry Anymore” is nothing to cry about.
The fifteen songs represent a mix of jazz, pop standard, alternative pop, and lounge music with a nostalgic and classy side. Rita’s fluid vocals border on Susan Aglukark and Madonna. The retro feel of a few songs were largely original tunes that clearly separated themselves from the rest of the songs. Even though many of the songs were originally written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Cole Porter, James Taylor, Sergio Mendes, and others, Rita manages to pull it all together with good vocals, piano sounds, and jazzy percussion. Fans of laid-back, alt-pop or jazz will find The Secret Of Life to be a welcome addition to any music library.
Review by Matthew Forss
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Rita Lim’s The Secret of Life is a kind of throwback album to the musical glory days of Las Vegas. This was before Vegas discovered the drawing power of country, rock and more contemporary pop, and back when more jazz-based music forms prevailed. While Lim may have been born in Los Angeles and traveled to multiple Asian countries during her lifetime, she’s relatively recently landed and put down roots in Las Vegas. Lim says she prefers to sing pop, R&B, smooth jazz and “everything but hard rock.” However, it would be safe to say that she doesn’t sing any sort of rock & roll, instead of simply avoiding hard rock. This CD set of mostly standards, with a few originals thrown in for good measure, has the feel of a late night nightclub date. The singing is quiet and smooth. The playing is tasteful. It’s dinner music, to put it succinctly.
Lim has the sort of comforting voice that would have been right at home on the old Lawrence Welk show. In many cases, Lim is backed by little more than piano, vibes, bass and percussion, which is primarily what her instrumental backup consists of on “So Many Stars.” Lim sings with a limber and fluid voice on the tune, which swings lightly, easily and unhurriedly. The preceding track, “Lazy Afternoon,” is a song title that also summarizes the overall feel of this recording. This CD is filled with the sort of sounds that fit just as well at a sunny outdoor barbeque, as in an evening jazz club.
As a vocalist, it is obvious Lim has listened to and learned from her share of jazz vocalists. It’s difficult to put your finger on it, but Lim sings with coolness that can only be described as jazzy. However, Ella Fitzgerald or Anita O’Day, she certainly is not. While her voice is smoky, like a jazz singer’s, it is not an instrument all on its own. Unlike Fitzgerald and O’Day, you won’t ever hear Lim break off into a scat part anywhere. She’s not one to go off on instrumental-like vocal runs, where the human voice does its very best horn imitation. Instead, Lim sings these songs fairly straight.
This singer says she also enjoys performing country and R&B music, you wouldn’t guess such a thing from listening to this particular collection. She never breaks loose in soulful, church-like outbursts as R&B singers – influenced by gospel and blues – are oftentimes want to do. Rather, much like an elegant lady afraid to break a nail if hard work might be involved in the equation, Lim plays it relatively safe and never pushes her vocal cords to the limit. As for country, it is readily apparent this girl has never gotten her hands greasy with any Texas barbeque.
About as exotic as Lim gets is on tracks like “I Wish You Love,” which jerks ever so slightly to a semi-Latin groove over stutter-stop percussion. When Lim sings it, though, it’s done so nearly like a lullaby. Atop a lounge room guitar and standup bass, Lim saturates this love song with all the feeling of a mother putting her little one to bed for the night.
With that said, however, “Where Do You Start” sets rhythmic concerns aside for a moment, so Lim can sing its words gently thoughtfully, as though she were taking center stage during a musical for a quiet, meditative segment.
This album’s best song is “I Will,” an old Beatles tune that is transformed from British Invasion pop-rock to something a whole lot smoother. While it reveals what a bright and engaging voice Lim possesses, it also shows off how incredible a song Lennon/McCartney created all those years ago. It sounds almost as if it was originally intended to be a jazz ballad, which is quite an elastic artistic feat.
It’s not going out on any limb to suggest that if you like jazz-inflicted pop singing, then you’ll also have a soft spot for Rita Lim’s music.