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Kellylee Evans

[English] [français]

“Come on !” More than an exhortation, an intimate command… From the outset, this eponymous first title sets the tone for a record whose aim was to do exactly this : to get right up and get on with it. “It’s like an appeal !” says Kellylee Evans, adding, “But the tune that provides the key to listening to this album is actually ‘Right to Love’. It’s the idea behind all the songs : that we have the right to love. That loving is right, … and that loving is good.” There’s no doubt about it : this record echoes the last two years in the life of this young woman from Toronto just as surely as there will be a ‘before and after’ in relation to this album, which comes as both a break and a continuation in relation to everything that came before it.

There’s continuity because you can still hear the fundamental characteristic which makes up Kellylee Evans’ personality : she was raised in soul music, listening to it either at her uncle’s place or in her own home. “Soul was part of the environment, like a member of the family. That’s why I never had to learn it. So I have no references, either, no preferences. I just adore it. To me, ‘soul’ is a feeling that settles down inside the fibre of those who listen to it. It’s a thing you can’t define.” And it’s precisely that “soul supplement”, that indefinable thing, which led a not-so-amateur singer to seduce jazz bassist Lonnie Plaxico and convince the jury at the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition.

As a result, in 2005 Kellylee Evans moved up to the “Pro” category, and two years later she was responsible for “Fight Or Flight”, and then “Good Girl” in 2010. Somewhere between jazz and soul, between Lizz Wright and Erykah Badu, the young Canadian vocalist was tracing a path for her voice in the wake of the woman to whom she paid tribute in 2011 : Nina Simone. That was the album which introduced her to French audiences, who were caught up in the energy she displayed onstage.

That first contact was transformed two years later with the appearance of I Remember When, the record that sealed her union with Sébastien Vidal of TSF Jazz radio (who also books musicians into the famous Duc des Lombards club), and the pianist & arranger Eric Legnini. Vidal came up with the idea of making a record based on new readings of hip-hop classics in a soul jazz mode ; and Legnini put together a project where Kellylee borrows from Eminem and Stromae !Kellylee was on her way… or at least, she was until June 8, 2013, when she was struck by lightning… literally.
Confined to a wheelchair, and forced to sing while seated, her dramatic experience would trigger a total change of direction in her life : in every sense, it was an electroshock.

“For one thing, I had to learn how to express myself differently,” says Kellylee. “I wasn’t able to run around onstage anymore, or go down into the audience to get people on their feet, singing and dancing… I also had to learn how to ask for help in private life… Maybe that was most important of all. And so my relationship with my family, my friends, and even my fans, now goes much deeper since that thing I no longer call ‘an accident’ but ‘an event’. I have absolutely no wish to live through all that again, believe me, but I’m still very grateful for everything I gained from the experience !”

In other words, the time for conjecture had gone, so “Come on !” The break with the past was accepted. And this new opus bears traces of that. First, in the lyrics, because Kellylee Evans tells her story in her text, the story of a survivor who decides to take charge of her life and state her femininity in a strong, clear voice, along with her desire for love… And also in the music because, unlike her previous work, which tended towards jazzier versions of songs at the top of the charts, her intentions here are clearly “pop”, which brings Kellylee even closer to the divas of Nu-Soul, even R&B.

“We looked at this as a proposal of our own music. We composed it all. And we prepared the album together, mainly by listening to Sixties soul records, particularly productions on HI Records, which have that very ‘matt’ drum sound, but also some Timbaland recordings. Even if I’m still very marked by the soul classics, I haven’t lost sight that you need a contemporary vibe in there. It was about modernizing that approach,” is the analysis of Eric Legnini, the man Kellylee calls “my dear older brother,” but who is in fact her alter ego. Eric has been associated with the entire creative process, from song-writing to artistic direction over the sessions. This is “post-modern futurist soul”, adds the singer. “I wanted the whole album to be joyful, alive and dancing. I want this to hit harder, both on record and onstage.” And that’s what’s striking about it : there’s no room for anything superfluous.

Kellylee Evans and Eric Legnini had a methodical approach to the recording : their own repertoire — both are skilled writers —, an organic sound once again recorded at the ICP studios, plus a team they were accustomed to, but with a few additional guests (among them Stanton Moore, a leading light in the funky drum-world of New Orleans, and arranger Christophe Del Sasso to take charge of the strings.

“The band was drawing on all that energy during the sessions, and the word was, ‘Come on !’” confirmed the pianist overseeing the project, “and afterwards we worked hard in post-production. That’s the solid, more hip-hop side. Working on the drums, overdubbing them, sometimes sampling even, treating the compressed sounds… But the studio spirit was still there. And if you listen hard, you can hear some really rich harmony.” All of which went into a sculptured sound that underlines the class of Kellylee, a Nancy Wilson-like voice that is “pop soul, but still jazz.” The result is vibrant, and this is what makes the style quite different from other productions that are too often “dehumanized”. Ten songs that all “come on” to the essential, heedless of boundaries laid down by styles or the moment… in the image of Kellylee’s first single, Hands Up, which flirts secretly with swaying reggae riddims, filtering the soul through to make this title seriously young. And that’s another idea that strikes like lightning !