COME ON OVER TO ME Barbara Stephan (independent) ****+
When I get a CD with absurdly good looking people on the cover I don’t want to like it, hoping it’ll sound like a vanity project for some bored dilettante dabbling in music. Not the case here. Stephan really brings it on Come On Over To Me, locking into an emotional soul-blues groove that really satisfies.
Stunning musicianship is at work here, with Barbara Stephan’s commanding voice being the mortar holding it all in place. The songs are well written and structured with each different from the next, not surprising for someone reared in a hardcore jazz household, where other genres were verboten. “I was already into all sorts of late-80’s/ early-90’s rock” she notes, “but because I wasn’t allowed to study or play anything other than jazz, I just rebelled. Left home at 18 and just started exploring everything else that was out there.” This expansion of her sonic palette led to what looks like a promising career.
The soul grooves that are prevalent on Come On Over To Me feel natural. “I was writing songs for film and TV for a licensing firm, and they gave me an assignment to write 11 Motown style songs” Barbara says. “The joy I got from writing those was the light bulb moment; I finally knew where I should be stylistically and as far as writing. And that was it; I’ve never looked back.” With my schedule I’m lucky to be able to listen to an album a couple of times before writing a review and moving on to the next one, that’s just how my life is disorganized… but as I type this Come On is playing for the fifth time- that’s how much I’m enjoying it.
Barbara’s smoky, passionate voice is a big attraction here but the Fender Rhodes-like keyboard work and horn stabs that give these tunes a Memphis/ Detroit pulse and haunting melodies that evoke thoughts of an Ennio Morricone score really bring it all together. Come On Over To Me feels fresh and familiar at the same time, and I’m loving it. One more spin before bedtime? Talked me into it.
SHEPHERD EXPRESS REVIEW
Barbara Stephan: The River (Full Moon Productions)
APR. 10, 2018
“Barbara Stephan has been kicking around between Milwaukee and Chicago for several years recording commercial music for Full Moon Productions and singing with the Eddie Butts Band and others around the city. For her solo debut, The River, she revisits the brassy exuberance and passion of 1960s and ’70s R&B. Though pitched as a throwback to Motown’s glory years, Stephan harks more to the contemporaneous run of influential soul music at Memphis’ Stax label, with its lesser concern for pop crossover and looser-limbed rhythmic intuition than much of what was laid down in Detroit back when.
Regardless of geographic and stylistic distinctions, Stephan utterly sells the EP’s half-dozen songs, imbuing them with conviction commensurate to Dusty Springfield or Sharon Jones. Stephan’s vocalizing is lighter in timber than those of the aforementioned divas, but still redolent of vintage soul’s gospel roots and more secular longings. It would be no far stretch to imagine The River receiving play on today’s adult R&B radio and, at the very least, being the basis for a fiery concert presentation. Though Stephan has worked in a variety of styles, she could do far worse than to stick with what works so well for her here.”
“WOW! The music of Barbara Stephan is a breath of fresh air with a delightfully funky gospel twist and a most welcome addition to what is turning out to be a renaissance in popular music. Barbara’s vocals run the full range from pastel to fire and are always spot on. She also did the composing and orchestrating on this project! And then there is her tune “If Ever You Leave Me”. James Brown himself would be proud of THAT one! Sophisticated song writing with beguiling sticky hooks that are accessible and compelling for everyone. This is state of the art!
–Steve Wiest: multiple Grammy nominated composer/trombonist with Vinyl Hampdin.
“EXCELLENT! It is my esteem pleasure to give Barbra Stephan an outstanding review for her CD release “The River.” This is a great body of work that is refreshing to listen to with soothing melodies, and toe tapping rhythms. This CD would be great to perform in Theater venues. Hats off, and 10 thumbs up for Barbra Stephen, her musicians , and Producers , you have captured what is missing on the radio today , excellent job!!!!”
-Michael “Mikie mike” Sulcer, professional touring drummer with legends including Ms. Lauryn Hill, Ray Charles Orchestra, Saxophonist Mike Phillips, Nell Carter and Diane Schurr