In 2004, Penny Wells released “Shine,” her first album. The vocalist co-wrote the songs with pianist Al McKenzie. A brave move considering Wells was still unknown back then. She's from good stock. She's kin to the great jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna and vocalist Naima Shamborguer. Wells never typecast herself as a jazz or a R&B singer although proficient at both. “Shine” was her’ official coming out party, and regionally it was a big hit. That was seven years ago.
Last week, Wells unveiled “Close To You”,” her second recording. She escaped the sophomore jinx, the session not measuring up to the promotional hype, and not being as exciting as her first. Wells opted to explore the Burt Bacharach songbook over putting out more originals. Her forte is singing ballads. Bacharach wrote many good ones. Wells picked nine.
“This Girl’s in Love With You” and “Make it Easy on Yourself" are outstanding. Wells delivers them explicitly. Her alluring voice would give a grizzly bear goose bumps. There's one glaring flaw “I Say a Little Prayer For You”. The song seems out of place, and it doesn't suit Wells' voice.
Wells has a worthy partner in Al McKenzie, the music director for the Temptations. He's a seasoned producer. When arranging Bacharach's songs, McKenzie was careful to keep the original melodies intact. “Close To You,” feels as if Wells spent the past seven years in the studio perfecting the album, laboring over every small detail.