Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cheater's Prayer: Regina Belle and What It Feels Like for the Other Girl

In the retro musical realm of late-'80s-to-mid-'90s female-sung R&B, Regina Belle sat high atop a perch looking down at new-jack city. Beside her were the best of the rest: Angela Winbush, Stephanie Mills, Miki Howard and Alyson Williams. Sisters with serious voices.

At her personal best, Belle was like a true black Barbra Streisand with a touch of Billie Holiday's soulful slur, able to sing up to a dozen or more pitch-perfect notes in one breath without ever stopping to catch it. She was the very definition of smooth, her fluid vocal style gracefully merging words into a tapestry of melody, never indulging in fits of melisma just because she could. Her painstaking technique, the way each word seemed to be as carefully considered as how it was delivered, distinguished her from everyone else making music at the time.

Unfortunately, she's perhaps best known to the pop masses for "A Whole New World," her 1991 duet with Peabo Bryson and love theme for the animated film Aladdin that won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and the Best Original Song Oscar. It's standard-issue '90s Disney pop sap, a middle-of-the-road ode to the kind of perfect love that doesn't actually exist in real life and would probably bore us to tears if it did. Fortunately, at 49, Belle could conceivably still make the masses remember her best for something else.

When I did my previous post on cheating songs, I somehow forgot to include one of Belle's best performances, a cover of The Stylistics' 1980 single "Hurry Up This Way Again," from her 1995 Philly soul tribute album Reachin' Back. That might not be as egregious a blunder as the ones repeatedly made by a cheater who always forgets to call, but it's kind of close. At least I get to correct myself with no broken-hearted collateral damage.

Well, maybe I shouldn't let myself off the hook too easily: When I reviewed Reachin' Back for People magazine (read it here), I somehow failed to single out "Hurry Up This Way Again" for specific praise. I suppose it's never too late. My favorite aspect of Belle's vocal performance is how her hallmark vocal control and restraint mirrors the self-control that the other woman in the song is striving to maintain. Though wracked with emotional pain, she must fight the urge to lose her cool and go all "thin line between love and hate" on that two-timing bastard.

Betcha by golly, wow, indeed. Listen and feel.

"Hurry Up This Way Again" Regina Belle

The Best of the Rest of Regina Belle

"So Many Tears" (from All By Myself, 1987)

"Baby Come to Me" (from Stay with Me, 1989)

"Love T.K.O." (from Reachin' Back, 1995)

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