CARIBIA ALBUM REVIEW: Jus’ Cynthia (Cynthia Saunders), U.S. Virgin Islands via Hollywood Florida

(Originally published at OnePaper.com)

Hustling through the sparse crowd of a downtown Atlanta street, Cynthia Saunders looks just as I’d remembered her. It’s only been two years, but a lot can happen in such a short space of time. She is toting a copy of her greatest achievement to date: her very first album on compact disc. What makes this recording debut extra special to those who hear it is its foundation. Jazz artist extraordinaire Jon Lucien, was introduced to Cynthia by Dion Parson, and hearing her voice inspired him to turn his efforts outward for the very first time. He then asked her to consider working with him on a new project.

In thrilled disbelief, Cynthia got to work deciding what would go on her inaugural recording, gathering talent as she went. Jon and wife Delesa mounted a production crew that included Cynthia herself, Billy Strachan, and Theodore Strachan; De Lucien Music Productions; Delesa Lucien, and 21st Century’s Dion Parson. It seems that only Jon knew exactly what he was trying to extract from this rare mixture of talents and minds; throughout the creation of Love Glow, he was an artist at the canvas. The final result? A Cynthia Saunders that fans will embrace with fresh recognition while newbies discover her pure tones and range of attitudes.

The opening strains sign on the entire collection as a Lucien production – the musical sound is unmistakably Jon’s. The opening song is a Soul classic, “For the Love of You” (Isley Brothers), and Cynthia gives it a treatment that pays tribute to the original while paving a Jazzy path. The stroll continues into Pop (Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”), with no loss of momentum.

A contingent of the Caribbean Chorale’s Children’s Choir lends a joyous background to “River Rolls On”. Generating easy counterpoint to the young voices, Saunders leans back into this call to agape love. Cut 4 is a testament to Cynthia’s confidence and craftwork. For, while it might be difficult for some to perform Brenda Russell’s “Get Here” without tripping over the specter of chanteuse Oleta Adams, Saunders does manage to create the song in her own vision.

The next 2 entries were inspired by life experience. Cynthia admits that she was moved to write the title cut after asking a beaming audience member about her ‘Mona Lisa smile’. The other woman’s blushing confession became the basis for the Latin-flavored “Love Glow”. Again, drawing from real life, Cynthia composed “The Eyes” in reflection of personal encounters with her mother. During the elder woman’s illness, when Cynthia would ask, “How are you?” the gaze she received in response told more than subsequent words could (or would) intimate.

Moving on to another favorite, “One Hundred Ways” (immortalized by James Ingram), Saunders renders the song in its original key; she easily lights both ends of the octave candle. Then, the smoky Jazz of the Washington/Carmichael standard, “The Nearness of You” gives Cynthia’s fans a bold taste of the “Jus’ Cynthia” they have come to know over the years.

Dipping even further in range and stepping off into a mild Reggae feel, Cynthia takes on relationships in another Brenda Russell work, “Justice in Truth”: “Just be fair to me, and I’ll be fair to you”. For the final song, we are pushed along by the Bossa Nova of another Saunders composition, “The Color of Love is You”. Somehow, we sense synchronicity in this cut – Lucien’s familiar scat places his signature on the closing as it was on the opening.

Jon Lucien’s mission, to frame the talents of Cynthia Saunders for all to enjoy, has been accomplished. All that said, you’d better believe that Cynthia Saunders came fully dressed to this ball. It was kismet in that her first producer would see her own perfections and hand them right back to her. These tracks have legs that go on for miles.

De Lucien Music Productions, 2000. Caribia Album Rating: � � � �
Funded in part by the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts
Website: � www.juscynthia.com