Hers is a voice that will stop you in your tracks. Just the sheer emotional intensity demands your attention. Its hard not to wax lyrical or use superlatives when describing Ann Nesbys heart-filled, God-given gift. In the oft-times here today, gone tomorrow music biz, shes the real thing, the epitome of true soul-to-the-bone singing. You can hear it from the very first notes of Seasons Change, the opening track all the way to the final few bars of You Always Cared, the last song on Anns superb sophomore solo album, PUT IT ON PAPER on ITS TIME CHILD RECORDS. Musical diversity is the key component on the album using her dynamic vocal skills, Ann moves seamlessly from traditional R&B and pop to sizzling dance music, infusing each track with her distinctive, gospel-honed brand of vocal artistry.
Going beyond her sterling work with the award-winning Sounds of Blackness and her much-acclaimed 1996 solo debut IM HERE FOR YOU, the multi-talented singer, songwriter and producer is in her prime with her latest project. With typical modesty, Ann declares, I wanted to make an album you could put on from beginning to end without skipping a song, a record that has a musical flow to it. Working with producers Herb Middleton, Gerald Isaac, Brian Alexander Morgan, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, John Forbes & Douglas Grigsby, Mousse T and Steve Silk Hurley, Ann has crafted a record filled with standouts and future classics.
Put It On Paper, an unforgettable duet with the legendary Al Green, recorded at the famed Gamble & Huff-owned Philadelphia International Records studio is a case in point. We caught up with the Reverend Green when he was on tour and we had sent him a tape of the song, she recalls. I was in Philadelphia and he flew in to record it and it was amazing. I mean, historic! Gamble & Huff stopped by during the session and it was just magical. It goes without saying that the album includes several enduring, truth-telling ballads such as I Cant Get Over You and Im Your Friend (a duet with producer/keyboardist and artist in his own right Big Jim Wright with The Sounds of Blackness on background vocals). Then theres Advice - one of the nine songs Ann co-wrote for the album - a brilliant true-to-life opus which features Anns talented daughter Jamecia Bennett. My last record dealt with life, love and relationships, she says, and we got such a good response that I wanted to continue with those themes.
While Anns pre-eminence as a balladeer of the first order is evident throughout PUT IT ON PAPER, she shows her appreciation to the loyal following shes created over the years in the dance music community (through her own Hold On, Can I Get A Witness and Sounds of Blackness classics Optimistic and The Pressure) with some truly passion-filled rhythmic grooves. A brilliant cover of Lovin Is Really My Game, originally recorded by Brainstorm in 1977 and later reprised by both the late Sylvester and Betty Wright is an obvious dancefloor smash; while Let Your Will Be Done is a joyous gospel workout. I figured we could do something for the dance and gospel audiences with that tune and working with (Chicago house music legend) Steve Silk Hurley was wonderful, she says.
In the same upbeat vein, there's Tonight's The Night with a special remix bonus version featuring a rap by Anns son Michael and the albums title track, Love Is What We Need, recorded in Germany with acclaimed producer Mousse T (known for work with Randy Crawford and Tom Jones among others). I was really excited about working with some of the younger producers, Ann notes. We just wanted to make sure we covered all the musical bases from house and dance to R&B, soul and gospel.
Much of PUT IT ON PAPER was recorded while Ann was touring for almost two years as a special guest in the play I Know I Have Been Changed for which she received rave reviews. She was invited to join the cast of the musical when Im Still Wearing Your Name, a much-requested cut from Anns 1996 debut set was included in the show. Originally, I was supposed to do three days with the play in Atlanta. That led to a week and then, two years! It was a real saving grace for me, a blessing to be on the road while I was switching from one record company to another, Ann recalls. It was a really great show that dealt with some important issues in life - including both spousal and substance abuse, and the effects of divorce on children, the kind of subjects that people can truly relate to.
Relating and contributing her gifts and talents to people the world over have been cornerstones in Ann Nesbys musical journey which began in Joliet, Illinois: "Both my parents sang: my father had his own quartet while my mother had her own gospel group. They would rehearse with both groups at home and there was always a piano close by so music was always right there in the household. My mother - who was a big fan of Mahalia Jackson's - used to teach me about performance, vocal inflexions, and how to express what a song was about. She told me as a child that God was going to use me to bless people with my voice..."
By the tender age of three, Ann had begun sharing her special innate vocal talent at Mount Zion Baptist Church. Two years later, she had her first appearance before a large audience, when as the youngest president of the church Sunshine band, she traveled to Chicago to perform at a Baptist convention. A performance in Chicago on a show with The Edwin Hawkins Singers proved to be turning point and while gospel favorites like Andrae Crouch, The Reverend James Cleveland, and Shirley Caesar were constant musical influences, Ann was also exposed to R&B. "My mother was a big Aretha Franklin fan and I would hear all of her music. I even won a local talent contest with Aretha's Chain Of Fools."
An invitation to participate in the musical "Sing Hallelujah" followed and after a 1986 premiere in Cincinnati, the critically-acclaimed show moved to The Village Gate in New York for a six-month run. In 1987, Ann began working with longtime friend (now husband and manager) Tim Lee on her first demo and was looking to start a solo career when a trip to Minneapolis to see her sister Shirley Marie Graham literally changed Ann's life. Graham had been singing with the much-acclaimed Sounds Of Blackness for several years, performing with the group in their annual productions and during the visit, Ann was asked by Sounds founder Gary Hines to participate in "Music For Martin," a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. Moving to Minneapolis in 1988, Ann became a full member of The Sounds Of Blackness. That same year, superhitmakers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis came to see the group perform and in 1991, The Sounds became the first act on Jam & Lewis' Perspective Records.
In 1991, to great critical acclaim, "The Evolution Of Gospel" was released, spawning Top 10 R&B hits with "Optimistic," "Testify" and "The Pressure," all of which featured Ann on lead vocals. The set also garnered a 1991 Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album by a Choir. She participated in the 1992 recording of the award-winning Handel's Messiah ("A Soulful Celebration") and in between constant touring both in the U.S. and Europe, Ann began nurturing her skills as a songwriter, working with fellow Sounds member Jimmy Wright. During her remaining years with The Sounds, Ann contributed several songs to the groups recordings including "Soul Holiday (for the 1992 release, "The Night Before Christmas") and "I'm Going All The Way," "He Took Away All My Pain," and "A Place In My Heart" for the 1994 best-selling album "Africa To America: The Journey Of The Drum," singing lead on all three tunes.
With The Sounds Of Blackness, Ann performed at the Grammys, The NAACP Image Awards, The Soul Train Music Awards, and The Essence Awards, thrilling from concert halls in London to churches in Los Angeles with her powerhouse singing style, touring the U.S. with superstar Luther Vandross and winning rave reviews from critics and fans alike for her show-stopping performances.
In 1994, Ann also began writing for other artists: Patti LaBelle cut her tune "The Right Kind Of Lover," and took into the R&B Top 10, while Gladys Knight recorded "Home Alone" for her 1994 "Just For You" album. In 1995, she began recording her all-important first solo album for Perspective Records. Released in the summer of 1996, the record ultimately spent an amazing sixty weeks on the
R&B best-selling lists. Ill Do Anything For You was the albums first hit single and two tracks, the emotionally-powerful Im Still Wearing Your Name and This Weekend garnered sufficient airplay to be featured on Billboards R&B charts.
Now, four years later, comes PUT IT ON PAPER, further testimony that Ann Nesby has few peers as a modern-day 21st century purveyor of classic soul, dance, gospel and pop music. A multi-faceted artist who has served as a vocal coach and arranger with best-selling group Next, Ann demonstrates that she is at thetop of her game with her new album, a testament to her diverse musicality.
Whether expressing the day-to-day realities of personal relationships with She Cant Love You or singing praises with Where Would I Be and To Be Blessed, Ann Nesby is quite simply magnificent. Indeed, the latter two songs sum up the kind of gratitude Ann feels as she reflects, Im just so grateful that four years have gone by and people still come up to me and say how much they liked the first album. Im blessed to have had so much support from the R&B, gospel and dance communities - now Im excited about letting people hear the results of all the hard work weve put into this new record She can rest assured that once again, as a truly soulful diva, she has delivered.
(courtesy of David Nathan and annnesby.com)