Nicole Willis
Soul Makeover

This former Leftfield guest vocalist highlights her techno soul and finds her spirit.

Nicole Willis has done Jill Scott one better. On her solo debut Soul Makeover, championed recently in British pop culture monthly The Face as the best soul album of 2000, Willis doesn’t solely rely on Philly’s rich musical heritage to carry her through. She also welcomes in some well-timed techno production know-how. Willis, a former Leftfield collaborator, teams up with Finnish techno-cabaret maven (and husband) Jimi Tenor and deep house producer Maurice Fulton to carve out the sound of modern soul jazz in the new millennium.

The result is wonderful. Willis’ classy voice nestles atop Tenor and Fulton’s raw, funky, hybridized grooves. On “Bliss Of Life,” Willis’ filtered essence gets woven into an intricate tapestry of muted piano, abstract electronic tones, and rolling percussion. “Heed The Sign” recalls an ’80s r&b standard mutating into dense tech-house, while Willis’ uncanny vocals on “Siesta” are reminiscent of Sade, resounding with a space age backdrop of whirling, ambient, swooping strings, and one lonely flute. With Soul Makeover, Nicole Willis remains too low-key to be a diva, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t got soul pride. She’s got plenty and a free spirit that allows her to remold soul’s conventions into something bold, brave, and exciting. Chris Orr

Essential Tracks:
(1) “I’m Not Going” (4) “Heed The Sign” (5) °Soul Makeover”  (8) “Gonna Get Yours”

If You Like This Try:
• Jill Scott – Who is Jill Scott? (Epic)
• Erykah Badu – Baduizm (Universal)