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Music Review: Daphne Willis – What To Say

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Every once in awhile I drift outside of my comfort zone for a review and so it is with Daphne Willis. At my age I find I often get stuck in the past and stay with artists which I have become accustomed too. In this case my leap of faith has produced results, broadened my musical horizons, and expanded my comfort zone.

Several years ago Daphne Willis was a student at DePaul University whose music career was secondary to her studies. In 2007 she released an independent five song EP titled Matter Of Time which caught the attention of Vanguard Records. Suddenly she had signed a recording contract and her music career became the primary focus of her life. The result of all this is What To Say which is her first full length album.

Her sound is very modern and comes out of the Jack Johnson school of music. Despite her young age she has taken control of her career which in this case is a good thing. She composed eleven of the twelve tracks and co-produced the album.

Her voice is a very effective instrument. It is a little out of the mainstream but has a soulful quality. She has been compared to Rickie Lee Jones and I think that is an accurate description.

It is her songwriting skills and her ability to construct a song which makes her stand out. The lyrics have a depth and tell stories. I do appreciate her publishing the lyrics within a small fold out booklet which accompanies the CD.  The music is intricate as there are tempo and beat changes yet it retains a melodic flow. The interplay of the instruments is creative and surprises lurk beyond each musical corner. A thumping bass lays down a foundation and a horn section provides effective flourishes and enhances the sound. It successfully treads the line between brash and intimate.

The opening tracks “Everybody Else” and “Bluff” are a good representation of her style as the funky brass section meets her soulful vocals. “All I Know” is about as close as she comes to a traditional rock song. The title song is a ballad and a nice change of pace. She even slips in some social commentary especially in the album closer “Jim Thornton.”

What To Say is not only a good album in itself but bodes well for Daphne Willis’ future. She is currently out on the road touring and if she should come my way I may really go outside my comfort zone.

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