Erica Falls, “HomeGrown” (Vintage Soul)

reviews-ericafallsAfter years of working in the perfectionist atmosphere of Allen Toussaint’s band and the energy of Galactic, Erica Falls has released an album that is all about her.

Fall’s professionalism is evident from start to finish. Every detail of the recording, every gesture of the intricate backing tracks and vocal accompaniments, is perfectly gauged to support her virtuoso vocal performance, which ranges from the delicacy of “Lovin’ the Feelin’” and “Alright” to the full out power of the title song. Her range and tonal control are superb, a breath of fresh air in an era when electronically enhanced vocal tracks lead critics who don’t know any better to favorably compare today’s chart toppers to Aretha Franklin. Though Falls recalls the old-school greats, her voice is unique. She is not trying to be the next big thing. Like Sharon Jones or Gladys Knight, she knows who she is and offers a complete, polished and professional R&B performance, packed with energy, nuance and well-crafted arrangements.

The project is a tour de force for a singer who is far more than some producer’s diva. Falls wrote all of the songs on the album except for her mentor Allen Toussaint’s “Old Records” and a suitably dramatic cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Dreams” which showcases her vocal range and features a Joni Mitchell–like chorus of her own backing vocals. Her backing vocals perform similar miracles elsewhere on the album, especially the gospel-influenced “Without You.” She co-produced the majority of the tracks over the course of sessions at local studios 636 and the Shed. Her collaborators are all deeply involved in the project. Five songs are co-written with bassist Donald Ramsey, who plays great parts on those tracks. Keyboardist Nigel Hall co-wrote and played on “Makings of Love.” And the show-stopping “Don’t Stop Your Lovin’,” written by bassist Tony Hall and New Orleans singer/songwriter Leslie Smith, is co-produced by all three. This funk excursion is one song on the album that would seem to fit easily into Galactic’s repertoire.

Falls gets great contributions from her backing band, including Nick Mercadel and Terence Higgins, Shamarr Allen on trumpet, Corey Henry on trombone, and guitarists Chris Adkins, Wendell Tilley and June Yamagishi.

Erica Falls took her time and did it right with HomeGrown. Mr. Toussaint would have been proud of her.