subtle horn use keeps it interesting, but not enough

Grade 1.4

released Apr 19th, 2011

from the album - I Will Be Waiting - 1.5

from all music


Daphne Willis is a Chicago-based singer/songwriter with a soulful vocal style and songs that walk a fine line between contemporary folk and classic R&B. Willis was born and raised in Palatine, IL, and grew up around music; her parents, Colin Willis and Hazel Thornton, were both part of the thriving music scene in Austin, TX during the '80s, where they attended the University of Texas while playing frequent acoustic gigs. After completing high school, Daphne enrolled at DePaul University in Chicago, and at 19, like her parents, she began writing songs and was soon trying out her tunes at open mike nights and playing intimate shows at coffee shops. In 2007, Willis recorded a five-song acoustic-based EP, Matter of Time, and released it herself through her own Bare Feet Music imprint, selling copies at her shows and online. By this time, Daphne's father was working with Sony Music, helping to coordinate music featured on in-flight entertainment programs for major airlines. Colin dropped a few songs from Matter of Time into an in-flight playlist for American Airlines, and Kevin Welk of the Welk Music Group heard them during a business trip. Welk was impressed enough by Willis' voice and songs that he had an A&R man with the Welk-affiliated Vanguard Records label check out one of her live shows, and before long, Willis was signed to the label. Willis had already begun recording a second EP, and Exhibit A, credited to Daphne Willis and Co., was released by Vanguard in the fall of 2008, featuring four original songs and a cover of the Aretha Franklin classic "Think." Producers Gary Pascoza and Tim Lauer came aboard to help produce Willis' first full-length album, 2010's What to Say, adding a more polished and diverse instrumental sound to the sessions. Lauer got behind the board again in 2011 on Willis' sophomore outing, Because I Can.

Album Review

Daphne Willis' first album for Vanguard, What to Say, was the work of a 22-year-old singer and songwriter who was clearly still sorting out her influences and deciding how to direct her musical talents. Because I Can, which arrived little over a year later, doesn't resolve all the issues that were warring among themselves on Willis' previous album, but she's certainly gotten a lot better at juggling her elements and keeping them moving fast enough that they at least look like they're starting to cohere. Willis shows a lot more confidence on Because I Can, and where she once shuffled back and forth between her "smart/soulful girl with an acoustic guitar" persona and more pumped-up R&B-influenced grooves, here she spends most of the album firmly on the good foot, which better suits her vocal style and works well for her melodies. (And when Willis takes a breather from her light funk workouts, she picks her spots wisely, on tunes like "Sad" and "Slow Down" that openly advertise themselves as changes of pace.) Willis also seems to enjoy a greater rapport with producer Tim Lauer and her studio band, anchored by guitarist Mike Payne, bassist Tony Lucido, and drummer Shannon Forrest; the players make more of her melodies here, and she sounds freer and more enthusiastic in these surroundings (though she should tell Trevor Hall not to include his truly lamentable rap skills on her next set). And though Willis still sounds like she's possessed by the spirits of any number of female soul divas past and present on Because I Can, she's more consistent and less mannered, and her smarts in reining herself in are welcome in our post-Mariah Carey era. Because I Can is still the work of a young artist with a lot to learn, but she's been doing her homework and she might even skip a grade if she keeps this up.

Track Listing

1 Shake It Off Lauer, Lucido, Willis 2:44
2 One by One Davis, Faulk, Willis 3:11
3 Spit It Out Lucido, Willis 2:49
4 Sad Davis, Faulk, Willis 3:03
5 Do What You Want Lauer, Ryan, Willis 3:00
6 I Will Be Waiting Davis, Faulk, Willis 2:46
7 Is Anyone There? Willis 2:52
8 The Song Song Lauer, Willis 2:55
9 Circumstances Willis 2:56
10 Weatherman McCormick, Willis 3:04
11 I Want To Lauer, Willis 3:07
12 Slow Down Lauer, Willis 4:12