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Johnaye Kendrick: Flying

Troy Dostert By

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It's been four years since vocalist Johnaye Kendrick released her debut album, but her sophomore outing, Flying, was certainly worth the wait. With finely-honed vocal chops channeled through some compelling compositions of her own and a few distinctively-performed covers, Kendrick is a complete artist, and this record will undoubtedly win her a lot of new listeners.

Kendrick has an equal fondness for jazz, pop and R&B, and while all these influences are amply represented here, what's most noteworthy about Kendrick's music is how seamlessly her disparate musical interests flow together. One doesn't find oneself listening to a track and thinking, "Oh, that's a jazz number," or "this one's a pop song." Kendrick has managed to cultivate a style all her own, a noteworthy accomplishment for a singer this early into her career. There's a strong rhythmic suppleness and a deep soulfulness that animate all the music, so there's less separating a jazz classic like "The Very Thought of You" from John Mayer's "3x5" than one would expect. A lot of this stems from Kendrick's vocal delivery, which is supremely confident and assured yet with an easy fluidity that allows her to tackle each line with a light grace and seemingly effortless phrasing. Kendrick's jazz training at the Thelonious Monk Institute has certainly not been wasted, as she can scat up a storm—just listen to her winning work on "It Could Happen to You" for proof—but Kendrick's vocal prowess really stems from her ability to find the core of a melody and the spirit of a song and to draw them out with integrity and emotional depth.

Kendrick's also got quite the knack for composing. The record's opener, "Never You Mind" conveys a subtle spirit of defiance through a winsome, loping rhythm that is instantly infectious, while "Secrets" confronts a betrayed relationship through a barely-veiled anger that drives the record's most fiery music. Like her vocal technique, Kendrick's lyrical themes carry a lot of weight with lithe finesse, with the album's title track especially effective in celebrating a woman's self-realization amidst challenging obstacles.

Special mention should be made of Kendrick's band, who have worked with her since her debut. Pianist Dawn Clement provides the understated support that gives melodic color to the music, while the rhythmic duties are fulfilled expertly by bassist Chris Symer and drummer D’Vonne Lewis. Like Kendrick, these musicians aren't as interested in ostentatious virtuosity as much as they want to create meaningful, moving music—and they succeed convincingly on this excellent release, one that should be regarded as one of the top vocal albums of 2018.

Track Listing: Never You Mind; Fallen; It Could Happen To You; You Two; The Very Thought of You; I've Got No Strings; Scorpion; The Lonely One; 3x5; Secrets; Boxed Wine; Flying.

Personnel: Johnaye Kendrick: vocals, harmonium; Dawn Clement: piano, nord; Chris Symer: bass; D'Vonne Lewis: drums, percussion; Michael Nicolella: guitar (12); Adore Oliver: vocals (4); Nola Oliver: vocals (4).

Title: Flying | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Johnygirl

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