Betty Harris

Intuition

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Although she recorded some powerful soul singles with New Orleans producer Allen Toussaint in the 1960s for his Sansu imprint, Betty Harris essentially retired from the music business when the decade ended, going out with a bang with the Meters-backed and Toussaint-produced funk single "There's a Break in the Road" in 1970. Now, three decades and then some later, she's back with what is technically her first album (her Toussaint recordings were only ever officially released as singles, although there are a couple of good CD anthologies that compile them out there on the market), the Jon Tiven-produced Intuition. Harris' brief initial flirtation with the commercial music business has made her somewhat of the lost soul queen, and it's a pleasure to have her back and in such fine and spirited voice. That voice, which sounds more hoarse and lived in these days, but is no less powerful and flexible as it was in the Toussaint years, transforms these songs, most of which were written or co-written by Tiven, into a tremendously poignant set of personal statements, but even better, Harris gives them life and vitality, and this isn't some laid-back ballads comeback album. It bursts with energy, and the production (Tiven is all over this thing, writing, producing, engineering, and playing guitar, organ, piano, sitar, alto and tenor saxophones, harp, and percussion, and still finds time to do some background vocals) has a ragged but elegant looseness that offsets the sometimes predictable songs. But no worry, predictable or not, Harris brings them to life, her vocals carrying a joyous intimacy that is all her. Highlights on this remarkably seamless set include the wonderfully sexy opener "Is It Hot in Here?," the sleek and elegant title tune, "Intuition," and the just-so funky "It Is What It Is," but there is something to like in every cut here, particularly in Harris' intonation and phrasing. Not bad for a debut album. There are a lot of cookie-cutter neo-soul singers busy mangling the ends of melody lines on the market these days, so it's nice to have a real singer back on the scene, one who sings like it all means something beyond an irritating exercise in vocal pyrotechnics. Betty Harris may have been a lost soul queen, but she's hardly lost on this outing. In fact, she knows exactly where she is and what's she doing. Welcome back, Betty Harris, oh, and don't wait another thirty years before you do your second album, OK?

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