Shirley Lewis

Passion in the Heart

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The younger sister of 1970s soul singer Linda Lewis, Shirley Lewis established herself as a popular backing vocalist in the '80s prior to her own work for A&M. Unlike Linda, who has a somewhat squeaky yet energetic voice, Shirley has a more subtle, sometimes less-distinctive tone. Similarly, when she belts, she sounds as though she's on the brink of turning in a "soul sister" performance, but can't quite garner all the strength. The underlying reason seems to be that she's used to being a background vocalist and is approaching the songs from that vantage point. That doesn't make her a lightweight pop princess along the lines of Madonna or Janet Jackson; rather, she's a diva-in-training with a few rough spots to patch up. The set offers a handful of strong pop-dance numbers and light R&B ballads, on which her delivery is quite enjoyable. Most notable is the peppy and spirited "Save Me." A truly hidden gem with a breezy and memorable melody, writers Pete Glenister and Mike Gaffey wisely reused the idea for Corona's 1995 hit "Rhythm of the Night" when "Save Me" never achieved a single release. The set's first single, "Realistic," boasts an almost-as-catchy chorus and background chant that serve the tune's theme of independence well. On the ballad side, "Where Do We Go From Here" stands out with its yearning chord progressions and vocal arrangements -- some of which provided inspiration for the 1993 song "Wherever You Are Tonight," recorded by Penny Ford. All of the aforementioned numbers were produced by Shep Pettibone, who truly brings the best out of Lewis overall. Steve Harvey does a solid job with the new jack-oriented "Love Somebody," but falters with the bland "Heartbreaker," a blatant copy of Pebbles' 1987 hit "Girlfriend." Meanwhile, Eric T. and Jay F. craft pleasing arrangements, but don't seem to motivate Lewis as much as Pettibone. All in all, Passion in the Heart is a colorful, if not flawless, set that showed Lewis to be a burgeoning pop/R&B singer with impressive potential. Unfortunately, poor distribution and the lack of a follow-up album prevented that potential from coming to full fruition.

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