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Heather Powell’s “A Haze Of Grays And Blue” Reviewed

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If the True Groove Allstars were the X-Men, Heather Powell would be Storm: the longest standing member of the team, central to the team, played by no less than Halle Berry in the movie, but she uses her powers so wisely, saves the day with so little melodramatics, all you are thinking of is Wolverine.

So it is with Heather Powell, the army brat who has been part of True Groove Records since I’ve listened to the label,  who followed the Americana with backbone self portrait Believe It To Life debut album, including exactly where the gray comes in on,  with this year’s A Haze Of Grays And Blue. The former was confessional, the latter professional, the former chick flick the latter sophisticated lady, the former soul meets country, the latter 1960s pop music with jazz flickering and shading.

Both albums are simultaneously fine and difficult, they are deconstructed pop moments waiting for a hook and they have a hook, Heather’s perfect voice, check out “Fight For Me” on the first album, a towering performance, a slow burn building building building, like a modern Sondheim, it is all exposition in a story untold, memorable for its momentum and not for its tune.

A Haze Of Gray And Blues has the same terrific voice, in a duet with with Kevin Jenkins, “Remember The Love” the sinking bass and smooth slide orchestrated pop is all timeless, other timelessness pop glory. We missed it without quite knowing we did; it sounds like Bacharach and Heather has a Warwick mood to her, it is like a poppy dreaminess but not as you and I think of pop.

Throughout the album, Heather (and co-songwriter Tomas Doncker) are picking up and putting down soft pop forms, the jazz is creamy on “Unexpected”, the big ballad tailored to Celine Dion “See Me” is so dramatic it levitates off the album, “Blue Light” is closer to the in the wee small hours chanteuse we were promised on the album cover, and the songs accumulate into a picture that shifts depending upon where the light hits it.

And this is a problem with Heather.

She is a populist whose artistic bent leaves her baptising her hooks in intricate variations, listen to the break on “Blue Light” again, you don’t know what direction it is coming from and so, the one saving grace of all pop, hookiness, seems to bedevil it. To put it another way: for a mainstream pop star, she is too arty.

But what can you do with an album with songs as good as “Awaken”, a swirling whirl of surreptitious desire on a beautiful album which takes patience and love to be heard in a world with very little of either? You give it the time it needs, after all Halle Berry is the most successful of all the X Men actors.

Grade: B+

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