2003 / Narada
Review by Michael Debbage
While the metaphors classical, operatic, exotic and soulful may sound like an oxymoron they all accurately describe the eclectic and wonderful world of Miriam Stockley. And yes, these words are in utter contradiction of one and another but that is the beauty of this adventurous singer that continues to make strides into the mainstream without compromising her unique signature voice. Second Nature is her second solo effort and effectively avoids the sophomore slump. It continues to build where her self-titled debut left off.
Miriam has been around quite a while with a significant resume list that has associated her with the likes of Elton John, Tina Turner and David Bowie to name a few. Her most well known contributions are as the showcased vocalist on Karl Jenkins' Adiemus collections and most prominently on Songs Of Sanctuary and the latest Live release.
Born in Johannesburg, Miriam brings to the table unique vocal chants of her native country that swirls and intermingles classical pop influences that parallel Sarah Brightman. The interesting blend added to the equation on this particular project is a touch of soulful jazz, giving it an underlying mainstream ambience. But those of you leery and anxious about her uprooting herself need not be concerned, as it is not the emphasis. Stockley has simply added this particular genre to her complex array of unique musical styles to make her music even more appealing and exotic with a little more accessibility.
The album opens with the more recognizable "Umoya" that leans on the traditional trademarks of Miriam with African chants and vocalization, assisted with pulsating percussion work that will move your feet. The trend is continued via the mid tempo complex harmonic vocal arrangements offered on "Rainsong" that closes out with soft distant thunder and rainfall. Speaking of harmonic arrangements, the opening acappella arrangements on the stunning "A Finish Summer Night" are angelic and that is an understatement. It brings to mind a hymn whose title evades the memory at this.
However, as the album progresses, the listener is slowly exposed to the soft winds of smooth jazz influences such as the very accessible "Spring" or perhaps the ominous "Sabancaya" countered by its pleasant chorus. The most obvious smooth jazz track would be "Butterfly" that includes some Ella Fitzgerald scat-like vocalization and tremendous flute work from Andrew Panayi.
Miriam then lets her hair down with the carnival flavored "Ifemli" urging you to book a flight to the lands of the exotica. Fortunately, Stockley is wise to wind it down with the gentle soothing ballad "Tula" that also brings the album to a close. In fact, the above two tracks are sequenced next to each other and effectively reflect the multifarious and divergent styles of this very original down to earth diva.
Stockley can add this fine project to her growing resume though for a change it is her own project and one that she can be proud of much like her strong solo debut. With some additional exploration into the world of smooth jazz, the adjustments are minimal assisted by some smart sequencing. There is little doubt she will turn anyone away and will only add to her growing legion of respectability.
March 4, 2003