Urban Productions BOLDLY Presents:
direct from Charlotte, North Carolina - live-in-concert, performing songs from her cd FULL CIRCLE
Monday March 7th, 2005 - 9pm - C-Note Bar (ave C at 10th Street) NYC)
hosted by Robert Urban
MEKOLE WELLS TAKES MANHATTAN!
Urban Productions Boldly Presents Mekole Wells
Review by Jed Ryan
"Did I say how much I love you guys for bein' here today?!" Mekole Wells declared to the audience at New York City's C-Note on Monday night, March 7th. Indeed, spreading her message of love-- specifically, the message of love in all its varieties-- is a big part of Ms. Wells' music. Raised in California and now residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mekole began singing since she was five years old. Like most African-American singers, she grew up on Church music, and she was also motivated to perform by an early fondness for jazz. Both of these musical styles continue to influence her sound today, and are evident on her debut album "Full Circle". Wells' first professional experience came at age 25, when she was signed to a subsidary of RCA called Bassment Records. She entered the formative dance music scene under the name "Eleesa", where she had three Top 40 dance singles. The variety of Mekole's body of work is indeed impressive, but as the listener soon learns, this singer-- who also performs in musical theater-- would likely succeed at any musical genre she chooses. Here's why: It's the voice. Reviewers have described Mekole as "angel voiced" and "silky voiced", but I prefer to say that Ms. Wells is "champagne voiced". Champagne: smooth, upscale, and sophisticated... but bubbling with excitement, and gently stimulating. And like champagne, Mekole Wells' music is ultimately intoxicating. When Mekole starts to belt, a big and bold side to her voice emerges, and the result is no less than astonishing.
That night, Mekole's rapport with her audience was no less than incredible: "I'm so pleased to be here. One thing I can always say about the C-Note in New York: Y'all always give a Southern girl love... and I just wanna say 'Thank you so much!'". This was Mekole Wells' second time at The C-Note. In December 2004, the diva hosted the Outmusic "Out Loud" Open Mic. She not only got to perform audience-pleasing tracks like "Movie Star", but as she introduced each of the participants of The Open Mic that night, Mekole Wells added "hostess extraordinairre" to her long list of talents.
Having that divine voice would be enough of a gift, but Mekole apparenty wasn't content just to make pleasing sounds. On her CD "Full Circle", she delivers love songs that are equal parts feverishly romantic and cool jazz, as well as radio-friendly tunes with as much pop appeal as any of her major-label peers. But Ms. Wells has taken her God-given talents a step further. As a songwriter, she writes lyrics about important, worldly issues: mostly about equality and love between all of God's children. Here's a woman with a mission and a vision for her music: a world with harmony and full equality, without regards to gender, race, wealth, or sexual orientation. Mekole Wells isn't the first or only artist who sings about equality and world peace... but in today's reactionary times, the need for this message is greater than ever. And I doubt that many artists can deliver that message and make it sound as delectable as Mekole Wells does. In "Summertime", the opening track on her CD "Full Circle", she masterfully evokes the spirit of that season ("I like the summertime jazz, summertime swing; summertime love, it makes my heart sing..."), paying homage to her influences Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington ("I like the way that Ella sings a special tune... and the way that Ellington plays the piano keys, puts me in the mood.."). In "Want U 2 Know", she similarly recreates the feeling of falling in love for the first time. In "Why?" she makes a heartfelt plea for world harmony.
Such is the essence of Mekole Wells: she frequently honors her various musical influences and explores timeless themes, but adds a modern, relevant, street-smart touch. Accompanied by Jerry T Hardison II on piano, Mekole opened the New York City night with "Summertime". The weather in The Big Apple was was just starting to show signs of thawing out after a long winter, and "Summertime" superbly gave this NYC audience a much-needed taste of the long-anticipated warm season. It was sexy, soothing and stimulating at the same time-- which was always the essence of jazz anyway. Next up was Mekole's anthemic "Shaking Hands With Me"-- a song about loving yourself with the same passion that you could love another person. The song celebrated the empowerment of herself as a gay black woman and her road to self-discovery and self-love: "I've never been so high, Never been this free; I'm coming in full circle, I'm shaking hands with me." It's an eloquent anthem of empowerment to anyone: any age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. "Shaking Hands With Me" starts off with a slow, delicate opening and gradually builds up to a climax that's no less than triumphant. By the time Mekole belts "I know that I'm a woman and I celebrate my insecurity... I'm finally shaking hands with me!", the listener is truly inspired.
Musician Tosh Mana and P.M. Magazine's Jed Ryan at the show - singer/songwriter Ron Morris with Mekole
Mekole dedicated the next song to the late Phyllis Hyman, the statuesque African-American songstress who Mekole admired and was often compared to. (Sadly, Phyllis Hyman took her own life in 1996.) The song was Hyman's 1976 wide-reaching single "Betcha By Golly Wow": "If I could I'd catch a falling star, to shine on you so I'd know where you are; All the rainbows in your favorite shade, to show I love you; Write your name across the sky, Anything you have to try..." Mekole gave a yearning, ethereal spin on the tune-- with Jerry Hardison's delicate nuances on the piano. Next up was "Why?". If "Shaking Hands With Me" is a new classic to the beauty of self-love and self-empowerment, then "Why?" is no less of an inspiring wake-up call for universal responsibilty towards our fellow man and woman. The song addressing homelessness, prejudice, war, poverty and a cornucopia of other issues-- set to a street-smart, urban pop sound with instant appeal: "I ask the question to help me rise above; When I see the tears in a child's eyes, I know the answer's love..." Mekole's next tune was the audience favorite "Movie Star": a drama set to music, and a gripping story-song with no less than perfect piano work by Hardison. "Movie Star" tells the moving story of a young actress looking for success who found a different, tragic kind of consequence instead.
Mekole was then joined by the show's Producer, NYC musician Robert Urban. Guitar in hand, Urban introduced the song with: "I've never had a chance to do this song live because there was just no Mary Clayton available! But this means a whole lot to me... and it just shows how a song that could be 30 or 40 years old can mean so much to us today!" The track was the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" from the "Let It Bleed" album, with Mr. Urban on the Mick Jagger part and Mekole doing the Mary Clayton part. Showing that a talented artist can easily cross musical styles when called to duty, with that track Mekole morphed into a bona fide woman of rock 'n' roll.
She concluded the night with an impromptu song which thanked everyone who helped her bring her music to the C-Note that night-- as well as, of course, her audience. Pulling from her endless bag of musical innovations, Ms. Wells turned a simple "Thank you" into a work of art. Mekole commented about the night, "It was a great night, and I have many compliments from people about the music and about the JOURNEY of the music-- how the lyrics of the music travel through the time of each person's soul. That's why I called my music 'soul Hymns from my soul-filled life'." Her current CD is called "Full Circle", and you can hear soundclips and learn more about it at www.MekoleWells.com. Mekole is currently performing in "Menopause: The Musical" and is working on her next CD, "Stories".
musicians Tracy Stark and Robert Urban Mekole and Robert duet on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" Jed Ryan of P.M. Magazine