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Dorothy Leigh, A Second Chance
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September, 2011: A Second Chance review by Nick DeRiso
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Dorothy Leigh is one of those singers who’s arrived so fully formed that it’s difficult to comprehend why she isn’t already more widely known. She’s intelligent, intense and capable of moving with ease between conventional large ensemble situations and the shag-carpeted soul of three decades ago.

Take “Whenever We Touch,” one of five tunes on A Second Chance composed by Juanita Fleming. Leigh’s vocal combines the urbane soulfulness of 1970s-era Dionne Warwick but with the jazzy facility of Nancy Wilson. At first presented as another pleasant R&B-influenced mid-tempo vehicle, the tune becomes ever more memorable through a series of inventive flourishes, from its counterpoint backing vocals to its island rhythms. Alva Nelson, the album’s producer, also adds a lithe turn at the piano.
Fleming was Leigh’s vocal coach and mentor, and her presence on A Second Chance only adds to its warm, family atmosphere. Nelson, who arranged this album as well, was Leigh’s accompanist before striking out to become a recognized arranger and producer in his own right.

Perhaps his most notable contribution here is the soaring, lightly grooving title track – a third-act statement of purpose, like Donna Summer in front of a swinging little R&B combo. “Don’t Hang Up” again echoes this sweeping 1970s-inspired vibe as a tornadic group of strings straight out of Barry White whooshes through the Janice Robinson’s deeply inspirational composition. Again, Leigh conveys a deep well of survivor’s strength, and she’s joined this time by a swaying, gospel-inflected chorus. Together, they sing with a purposeful pride, and their brash sense of determination is contagious.
“Home Again,” another Fleming track, again smartly recalls Wilson. Leigh walks the listener to a storyline not unlike “Guess Who I Saw Today,” where a wandering partner returns not to frail flower who’s been faithfully waiting by the phone, but to someone who has been broadly changed by the experience. Leigh’s inspiring performance, one of insistent dignity, works like a pungent rebuke.

An undulating rhythm fires “Gone Away to Stay,” which finds Leigh exploring the other side of love’s coin – this deep desire to keep things going, despite bumps in the road – amidst rustling island sounds. When a soaring flute gives way to a series of heavenly vocal interludes, however, Leigh is back in the 1970s again – this time recalling Earth, Wind and Fire. Nelson even switches to keyboards, adding a squiggly, fusion-inflected shapes.

Thereafter, A Second Chance hews more closely to the typical format of a vocal record, though it’s scarcely poorer for it.

“I’m Gonna Love You Forever,” perhaps the most conventionally presented ballad moment, finds Leigh fronting a lightly swaying jazz group. Fleming’s lyric is a great platform for her, too, as she moves from autumnal colors – woody, earthen, a dry leaf curling its way to the ground – up to an impossibly robust sound, like a bronze statue come to life.

She then catches a keen groove on the swinging “Never Did I Stop Loving You,” performing with a strength and daring that carries over from the bravura conclusion of “I’m Gonna Love You Forever.” Nelson, back at the acoustic piano, trades back and forth, first with the bass and then a searing trumpet, and finally the whole banging amalgam of big-band performers. When Leigh returns, she sings with a quick wit, getting in front of the beat for a moment, then falling back to a winking whisper alongside her galloping companions. It completes perhaps the best two-song sequence on A Second Chance.

“Don’t Call Me a Fool,” a track with these wide-open gospel spaces, provides another chance for Leigh to boldly state her case for individualism – “Don’t call me crazy because I believe in angels” – even as it underscores her nimble vocal acuity across a variety of genres.

Fleming’s “Confession” returns to the island vibe of “Gone Away to Stay,” while the album-ending “Time to Go” – with its theme of letting go when the time comes – makes for an appropriate conclusion, even if arrives all too soon.

A recording of remarkable grace, and no small amount of strength, A Second Chance deserves the chance to be more widely heard.

Review by Nick DeRiso
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

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