Daphne Willis

Because I Can

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Daphne Willis' first album for Vanguard, What to Say, was the work of a 22-year-old singer and songwriter who was clearly still sorting out her influences and deciding how to direct her musical talents. Because I Can, which arrived little over a year later, doesn't resolve all the issues that were warring among themselves on Willis' previous album, but she's certainly gotten a lot better at juggling her elements and keeping them moving fast enough that they at least look like they're starting to cohere. Willis shows a lot more confidence on Because I Can, and where she once shuffled back and forth between her "smart/soulful girl with an acoustic guitar" persona and more pumped-up R&B-influenced grooves, here she spends most of the album firmly on the good foot, which better suits her vocal style and works well for her melodies. (And when Willis takes a breather from her light funk workouts, she picks her spots wisely, on tunes like "Sad" and "Slow Down" that openly advertise themselves as changes of pace.) Willis also seems to enjoy a greater rapport with producer Tim Lauer and her studio band, anchored by guitarist Mike Payne, bassist Tony Lucido, and drummer Shannon Forrest; the players make more of her melodies here, and she sounds freer and more enthusiastic in these surroundings (though she should tell Trevor Hall not to include his truly lamentable rap skills on her next set). And though Willis still sounds like she's possessed by the spirits of any number of female soul divas past and present on Because I Can, she's more consistent and less mannered, and her smarts in reining herself in are welcome in our post-Mariah Carey era. Because I Can is still the work of a young artist with a lot to learn, but she's been doing her homework and she might even skip a grade if she keeps this up.

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