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Born to Shine is brilliant

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Guest review by Cathy Shepherd Born to Shine, Vaughnette Bigford’s first solo CD, reinterprets 11 songs from the T&T calypso, pop, soca and soul songbooks, spanning a 39-year period.

The CD opens on an uplifting note, with Mac and Katie Kissoon’s And the Lord Said. Rodney Alexander’s distinctive bass riff melds with Michael ‘Ming’ Low Chew Tung’s keyboard, Khalen Alexander’s drums and Theron Shaw’s wailing electric guitar to infuse Bigford’s dulcet vocals with a gospel tinge.

The religious theme continues with Theron Shaw’s arrangement of Ras Shorty I’s (Garfield Blackman) Who God Bless, another slow number that marries Bigford’s mellifluous voice with Shaw’s acoustic guitar, with spellbinding effect.

The familiar melody of Winsford Devine’s Progress (made famous by King Austin) is given a stripped-down, piano ballad treatment in Ming Low Chew Tung’s arrangement, as Bigford’s vocal illuminates the introspective lyric that interrogates the price of human progress.

Bigford applies the sultry, smooth jazz treatment to Ken Marlon Charles’ Soul on Fire, aided and abetted by Anthony Woodroffe’s funky, soaring saxophone and the superb, complimentary harmonies of Afiya Athill and Sade Sealey, climaxing in an anthemic outro.

Ming’s contemplative arrangement of Ella Andall’s Missing Generation increases with intensity in the second verse, as drums and background vocals are superimposed over keyboard. A higher key change in the third verse and military drum beat give the vocal an apt sense of foreboding as Bigford exhorts “Somebody better pray” but lacks the urgency of Andall’s original.

Shaw’s haunting, lilting arrangement of Winston Bailey’s One Love is a pas de trois among fluttery acoustic guitar, soaring saxophone and the original musical instrument, the human voice.

The melody resonates long after the last note is played, making it my favourite track on the album and leaving me in awe of the arranger and interpreter.

The bass-driven, jazz-infused and very danceable Can You Love Me is a first-rate homage to composer Arthur Marcial’s original—recalling that perfect night when mutual love is first revealed—and features a funky electric guitar solo by Theron Shaw.

Be Careful is a jazzy, joyous arrangement of the Dennis Franklin Williams original, with its sax-accompanied, scat singing and head-shaking saxophone solo. Bigford’s vocal improvisation towards the end—Where you go/ When you walk/ What you say/ When you talk—is just infectious.

In Crying’s Easy, Rodney Alexander’s bass unites with Bigford’s stirring vocal, to evoke the poignancy of Oliver Chapman’s soul-baring lyric’, not quite capturing the emotional vulnerability of the unrequited lover.

Bigford’s interpretation of No Money No Love, gives the Slinger Francisco classic a new-found, feminist nuance that The Birdie (Mighty Sparrow) never could.

Lovingly arranged by Ming, its country and western-flavoured introduction eases into a slow, sexy calypso beat. What is missing from the recorded track, however, is Bigford’s tongue-in-cheek repartee that accompanies this song whenever she performs it before a live audience.

The album ends on a radiant note with the title track, Born to Shine, an outstanding tribute to T&T’s own Queen of Soul, Carol Addison. Bigford’s soulful lead, the vocal harmonies of Athill and Sealey, and Shaw’s funky, wah-wah, electric guitar solo all command the listener to dance and sing along.

Born to Shine is well-produced in every respect: the assemblage of stellar singers and musicians, discerning song selection, impeccable arrangements, crystal clear sound and impressive CD packaging (though the use of a numbered track list on the CD’s back cover would have been more user-friendly).

Most intriguing of all is that these songs are totally local and have stood the test of time.

By dusting them off and repainting them in modern colours, Low Chew Tung and Bigford introduce new generations to some timeless, musical gems and cast a venerable light on their almost-forgotten composers.

Will you be listening to Born to Shine five years from now? Most definitely. Bigford’s vocal chops—control, enunciation and tone, to name a few— are undeniable. What we only glimpse on this anthology, though, is her ebullience. For this reason, I rate it 4/5…and can’t wait for her second.

Vaughnette Bigford Born to Shine (released 2017) Genre: World— Caribbean


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