Rozalla Miller / Rozalla

Brand New Version

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Best known for her 1991 club classic "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)," Zambian-Zimbabwean vocalist Rozalla couldn't have timed her belated comeback much better, considering that you can't switch on the radio these days without hearing an R&B song based on an old '90s dance tune. But 11 years on from her last release, Coming Home, the diminutive singer, who's now added her real surname, Miller, to her recording guise, has abandoned her "Queen of Rave" beginnings in order to pursue a sophisticated jazz-soul direction influenced by the likes of Sade and Anita Baker on her fourth studio album, Brand New Version. Indeed, while her previous Hi-NRG material found a home in the illegal warehouses of the hedonistic acid house scene, the slight bossa nova rhythms and lilting piano melodies of "Signs," the twinkling chilled-out soul-pop of "Over Again," and the string-soaked ballad "Step by Step" instead all evoke the ambience of a particularly classy '80s cocktail bar. Without the usual lashings of electro production, it's a reinvention that allows her understated, pure, and soulful vocals, reminiscent of gospel balladeer Oleta Adams, to come to the forefront. Unfortunately, the material doesn't match up to the majestic qualities of her voice, the basic organic production offering little differentiation among the eight original compositions, which very rarely provide a memorable hook or interesting musical touch. However, the inclusion of two unlikely but cleverly chosen cover versions shows that with the right output, Rozalla is capable of creating songs that more than live up to the standards of her earlier work, with both Paul Weller's mid-'90s mod-pop shuffler "Broken Stones" and Pete Doherty's gorgeously tender "For Lovers" given the effective slick quasi-jazz treatment. Considering her obvious desire to distance herself from her dance diva past, it's a surprise that her signature tune, which still hangs around her neck like a particularly stubborn albatross, is tacked on as a bonus track. But although it will probably have old-skool ravers up in arms, the transition from synth-based floor-filler to acoustic piano-led mellowness is surprisingly smooth. Aptly titled, Brand New Version's refined quiet storm sound is indeed unrecognizable from Rozalla's previous trademark dance-pop, but although it's an ambitious musical rebirth, its lackluster compositions fail to reach the same giddy heights.

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