On her stunning sophomore album, Tracey Whitney pays joyful homage to a diverse mix of musicians who have inspired her own singing and songwriting. Rounded out by three original tracks, “I Am Singing…Songs I Love” (a nod at her cover of the Stevie Wonder classic, “Ngiculela - Es Una Historia/I Am Singing”) features the Los Angeles/Albuquerque-based singer’s stirring renditions of classic yet lesser-covered songs by artists like Michael Franks, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. At turns breezy and beautifully moving, the follow-up to 2007’s much-acclaimed “Love…A Fable in 9 Acts” serves up more of the silky Jazz-Soul fusion that’s become the trademark for this former child singing sensation and backup vocalist for the legendary Ray Charles.
The latest release from Tracey’s own BabyDoll Entertainment, I Am Singing…Songs I Love first began taking shape in the midst of a reignited infatuation with “Eli’s Coming” (a Three Dog Night hit authored by Laura Nyro). “I couldn’t get ‘Eli’s Coming’ out of my head, so I ended up heading into the studio and recording my own version to get it out of my system—but then we just kept going,” recalls Whitney. Working with co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Herman “Hollywood” Dawkins, Tracey went on to lay down seven more covers and several original songs that elegantly flaunt her tightly honed harmonic sense.
Though I Am Singing… marks only her second solo album, Whitney’s musical history stretches all the way back to age 11. At the famed Coconut Grove in Los Angeles, Tracey made her debut as part of The Whitney Family (a singing group that included her mother and seven brothers and sisters). Over the next decade, The Whitney Family toured the world and recorded two albums (including “Let Me Be Your Woman,” a Billboard magazine top singles pick). Tracey struck out on her own at age 22, becoming a hit nightclub act in Los Angeles and Tokyo before landing her role as a Raelette in Charles’s 1991 tour of the United States. “After singing with Ray Charles in a five-part-harmony structure, my brain can no longer hear anything in fewer than five parts,” she notes, adding that Charles greatly deepened her understanding of melody.
But while Whitney’s extraordinary career has played a key role in shaping the smooth sound heard throughout I Am Singing…Songs I Love, her pop instincts, soulful sensibility, and irresistibly natural ease behind the microphone are all essential to the album. Whether reimagining Garth Brooks’ Beatles-esque country pastiche “Wrapped Up In You” as a soaring, scat-laced celebration of love or giving a sweet nod to the Jackson 5 by joining her brother (and fellow former Whitney Family member) Glynn Whitney on an update of Michael Jackson’s jazzy “I Can’t Help It,” Tracey pairs her dynamic vocals with refined arrangements to glorious effect. On her original numbers, meanwhile, Whitney introduces innovative elements that let her own singular style shine through: “Heartbreak 2011,” for instance, combines a quietly powerful beat and aching lyrics (“I lost my chance at heaven”) with a heart rending spoken-word intro and outro.
No matter if she’s delivering an original song or a cover, Tracey infuses her songs with a slick sophistication that’s uncommon in today’s musical landscape. “It’s lovely if younger people enjoy my music, but I’m really singing for adults, and telling real stories about real situations,” says Whitney. “What I hope is for people to hear my songs and connect with them on a very emotional level—and ultimately get a sense of calm and joy from that.”
In addition to Hollywood, the album also features Tim Anderson (from Love… A Fable In 9 Acts) on saxophone, brother Glynn Whitney and sister Cozette Whitney-Bolden performing vocals.