Singer Kenya has opened for Rachelle Ferrell, Lalah Hathaway, or Raul Midón. She has worked in gospel choirs, jazz ensembles, and musical theater, and has now released her debut album “My Own Skin”.
Kenya, whose full name is Kenya McGuire Johnson, opens the album with the catchy title track, sounding a lot like Incognito at their best. The slick mix of Soul, Dance, tight production, and killer chorus promises to be another fine indie Soul album. Even though from the start it is obvious that she is not reaching all ranges, her voice is sympathetic and steeped in Gospel/R&B tradition which can be heard throughout the 80s Isley Brothers-sounding “Be Here” which also features the brothers of Kloud 9 (Kendall Duffie of Kloud 9 has produced five of the tracks here).
“Wednesday Girl”, produced by Khari Cabral Simmons, Daz I Kue, and Julius Speed, is a haunting track with spicy keyboard work and trumpet by Melvin Jones which later turns into a compelling stepper with a cool breakbeat. It’s back to solid Soul with “Take Me Away” with the signature Kloud 9 modern Soul production and fine horn work by Tyler Summers and Vinnie Ciesielski. The light house touch of “Let Me” is a welcome change of groove which, again, has a wicked hook.
Stevie Wonder‘s “I Can’t Help It”, written for Michael Jackson‘s “Off The Wall” album in 1979, is here again. A song that has been covered a lot of times in recent years, is featured here in the SugaBoom Remix by Othello Glenn and David Stoller. It works its way through the Wonder classic with a funky guitar and a great vocal arrangement. It starts to become a bit homogeneous just before it comes to a close. Singer Brandon B. McKenzie helps out on the grooving “Makeusmile” and “Mirror” in my view is a rather bland Rock tune.
There is a respectable Soul ballad (“Sleepless”) co-written by Loston Harris, a breezy midtempo “Brown Soul”, and a Latin-infused “Never Giving Up” where I think her voice is the weakest part – it sounds as if the song is simply not written for her range which seems to stay put in the middle register. There is a sequence in the song where she actually goes up and it works, but it’s abruptly ended. I have the feeling that she can do a lot more with her voice. The Maurice Joshua-produced “My Heart” ends the album with a fair enough dance number before there appear two remixes: the funky Daz I Kue Remix of “Wednesday Girl” (which is really the biggest track on the album) and the superb Mark de-Clive Lowe Remix of “Be Here” with extensive layers of keys put above and behind and around the vocals and bubbling on in a constant hypnotic groove.