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CD Review: Melinda Doolittle 

Coming Back to You (Hi Fi)

She may have been one of American Idol's most gifted vocalists, but the irony is that if 2007 third-place finalist Doolittle had actually won, she would have been under record-label pressure and would probably never have made a CD this suited to her talents. Producer Michael Mangini (Run-DMC, Joss Stone) surrounds her savvy vocals and old-school soul smarts with live instrumentation and upbeat horn charts, giving the album a vital human warmth. It's a good thing, because Doolittle is the kind of performer who practically inhabits her material. She wrings every drop of passionate, romantic feeling on the Sammy Cahn standard "The Best of Everything" and caresses every word of the gorgeously lush 1955 Doris Day tune (also by Cahn) "I'll Never Stop Loving You." Best of all, she does this while steering clear of tiresome vocal runs — the surest way to kill a melody. As these songs reveal, Doolittle is a musical chameleon comfortable mining a range of styles, whether she's singing with a gusto that Tina Turner would envy on the driving "Declaration of Love" (empowered by some mighty horn blasts) or showing off her grittier blues edge on a pair of Robert Johnson numbers ("Dust My Broom" and "Walkin' Blues"). Coming Back to You is an honest portrait of Doolittle as an artist. — Tierney Smith


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