Thelma Houston

A Woman's Touch

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For her first new album in 17 years, Motown and disco veteran Thelma Houston doesn't exactly dive into the deep water, but instead sort of gets her feet wet by putting her touch on a series of soul and pop covers from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s originally done by male singers Houston has long admired, giving these classic songs, as the album's title states, a woman's touch. The end result is sort of a mixed bag, but it is good to have this fine singer back in the game. A Woman's Touch has a rather smoothed-out, thin sound, and producer Jeff Palo obviously had some budget concerns to deal with, which is probably why there are programmed horns here rather than the real deal, but Houston's voice is what truly matters, and thankfully she is in fine form, bringing a blues approach and a gospel fire to the table. She shines on a pair of Marvin Gaye tunes, the powerful "Distant Lover" and a slowed-down, completely unique version of "Ain't That Peculiar" that recasts the song with a tone of weary resignation into a whole new realm. Houston also sticks her old disco shoes back on for driving renditions of Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and the Luther Vandross-penned "Never Too Much," and tackles pop fare like Jimmy Webb's (who produced her debut album back in 1969) "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and Sting's "Brand New Day" with pleasing if not exactly groundbreaking results. In the end, A Woman's Touch feels a bit like a test run for Houston, a way of easing back into things, and for that, it's a fine outing. Aside from her magnificent version of "Ain't That Peculiar," though, most of what's here is treading water, and Houston is too good a singer to do that for very long.

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