When emerging soul/jazz singer Melina talks about the good fortune that took her from being a gigging vocalist in her hometown of San Antonio to a national recording artist with her highly anticipated Woodward Avenue Records debut album Wishing On Love, she’ll say things like “Honestly, all this is a dream come true!” Or “I think I’m kind of in a daze!” And then, showing her refreshing sense of gratitude and humility, “It’s hard to say what I am expecting because I never expected any of this.”
But the truth is, from the minute we hear her pure, soulful tones -- with simple piano accompaniment -- on the opening track and first single “Maybe Not Today,” it’s the listener who gratefully enters the cool and often surreal musical dreamscape created by her and guitarist/producer Paul Brown. We’re the ones dazed and dazzled by this naturally gifted musical storyteller’s ability to tap into the joys, challenges and raw emotions of her own life, which allows her to take us on this initial journey. It’s an adventure that reminds us - in an often hard world where good news is increasingly harder to come by – that if today doesn’t bring that love and joy, we just need to wait for tomorrow.
On a collection of songs balancing strength with vulnerability, and where wide eyed hope is offset by the reality of longing and patience, Melina’s unbridled optimism is the thread that connects most of these songs, from “Maybe Not Today” to the simmering urban romance “Stay With Me Tonight” and the infectious, anthem-like ballad “Wishing On Love.” But Melina also lets us feel just enough pain to keep things grounded – particularly on tracks like the troubled relationship chronicle “Halfway Gone” and a gentle, longing version of “Superstar,” modeled more after Luther Vandross than The Carpenters version, which brings out the classic song’s true haunting nature.
A devoted wife and mother of five year old girl twins, Melina shares intimate connections to her family, tapping into a little of her church and gospel background to declare eternal devotion on “I Will Be Loving You” and expressing a love only a mom can know on the beautiful and poetic ballad “Walk With You,” penned by Brown’s wife Jacqui. Another lovely original is the classic styled R&B ballad “If I Never Told You,” which finds Melina harmonizing with Dax Reynosa. Reynosa’s compelling lyrics throughout Wishing on Love help the singer share her own life story in uplifting yet realistic ways.
It’s testament to the straight to the heart songwriting and Melina’s transcendent vocal delivery that the songs that bear the most repeated listening are the originals and not the covers. But the three that Melina and Brown chose, and their crisp and cool arrangements, bring out emotions the listener might not have caught in previous versions. Beyond “Superstar,” Melina does a cool, restrained take on Stevie Nick’s always welcome “Landslide” and creates – with the help of arranger and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Carruthers - an organic soul twist on “At Last” which casts aside the drama for some unexpected late night, dreamy sensuality.
Production-wise, Brown pulls way back (compared to the busier arrangements of his countless smooth jazz hits) and keeps things sparse so that Melina’s vocals are where they belong at center stage, telling these glorious tales. “Halfway Gone” in particular is one of those rare songs, like Adele’s “Someone Like You” and John Legend’s “All of Me,” that needs only a voice and subtle piano to break your heart.
For all its multiple shades of awesome, marking the emergence of a genuine, no frills and all emotion vocal talent, Melina’s breakthrough Wishing On Love was one of the best albums of 2014.