Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Tracy Hamlin: Seasoned Soul

Tracy Hamlin
Tracy Hamlin Tracy Hamlin

Internationally renowned for her flawlessly powerful “soul diva” vocals, Baltimore singer/songwriter Tracy Hamlin this month releases her fourth solo album “Home”, pioneered by the solidly thumping Eighties-R&B-flavoured groove of its Starpoint-covering offshoot single “Bring Your Sweet Lovin Back”.

Born Tracy Yvette Hamlin on August 22, 1966 in Baltimore, Maryland Tracy enjoyed a successful stint as lead vocalist for seasoned smooth jazz outfit Pieces Of A Dream (featuring on the group’s albums “Love’s Silhouette” and “No Assembly Required” in 2002 and 2004 respectively) and also performed as background singer for globally-revered disco Queen Gloria Gaynor prior to finally launching her solo recording career proper in 2005 with the self-released album “Seasons”. Following which she would go on to release two further albums - 2009’s “Better Days” and 2013’s “This Is My Life” - through her own label DMH Records before this year switching over to Quantize Recordings (for whom in 2011 she released the well-received single “Drive Me Crazy”) for her aforementioned new set “Home”. Which - boasting production from the likes of (globally-renowned club deejay) DJ Spen, Thommy Davis, Eric Valentine and Phil Davis - encompasses a diverse range of musical moods ranging from a soulful uptempo house cover of Luther Vandross’ 1981 breakthrough smash “Never Too Much” and the relentlessly-pulsating club groove of the Raymond Barton-co-penned “Take Me 2 Paris” to the dreamily-sensual, guitar-laced jazz/soul of “Seasons” and surging big-balladry of “User Friendly”.

… Cue a petite and articulate Ms. Hamlin meeting up with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis in her Camden Town apartment during her recent visit to London for an informative introductory chat.

PETE: What’s the story behind you titling your new album after your cover of the Broadway anthem “Home”?

TRACY: “Well as you say, “Home” - the album’s title-track - is actually a song from the Broadway musical “The WIZ”, which I’ve been emotionally attached to for a long, long TIME. Like over the years I’ve won several pageants - I won Miss Baltimore, Miss Maryland - and with every one of those pageants also having a TALENT competition I’d always find myself singing “Home” and dressing up like the show’s character DOROTHY! And so because they knew that, the guys I work with at Quantize Recordings - Thommy Davis and DJ Spen - suggested that, because in the house music community the only song that ever gets played in its original form is actually “HOME”, we should do a HOUSE version of it. And while my initial reaction was ‘That’s a classic song, we probably shouldn’t touch it’, the more I thought about it the more I was like ‘But then I guess you guys do know the house community better than I do - so let’s give it a TRY!’... So Gary Hudgins from Baltimore did the track, he did an amazing job, I went in to record my vocals... And because we decided to approach it from the perspective of celebrating the lives of the loved ones we’d lost, it actually turned into my most emotional recording-session EVER! You know, I just cried and cried and CRIED, because only a couple of years before I’d lost both my parents within a seven-month PERIOD… But then while it was a very emotional experience for me, I guess at the same time the final product was exactly what Thommy and Spen WANTED and it has ended up being embraced by many PEOPLE. Which in turn to us ultimately made “Home” an obvious choice-of-title for the album as a WHOLE.”

PETE: “Home” also features your covers of well-known songs like Luther Vandross’ classic 1981 chart-topper “Never Too Much” and the anthemic Jimmy Webb ballad “This Is Your Life”…

TRACY: “Yes, some of the tracks on “Home” - particularly the “Deluxe Edition” - are actually remixes of some of the songs from my (2013-released) third solo CD which was called “This Is My Life”. Which was a project where I was basically paying tribute to many of the artists and songwriters that have inspired me as a vocalist AND as a person. And with “Never Too Much” being a song I like to open my show with, because I loved the version I was doing with my band I basically just thought we should actually RECORD it. And what I found really interesting about that whole experience was the way so many people then came up to me and were like ‘It obviously took a lot of courage for you to do that SONG - I can’t believe you had the GUTS!’. Whereas the fact is I never ever approach it from that PERSPECTIVE! Instead I’m always approaching it from the perspective, as I just said, of paying tribute to the people that have INSPIRED me! And Luther Vandross to me was just an amazing vocalist and an amazing songwriter whose work I really ADMIRED - particularly in terms of what he did with background vocals and the RESPECT he had for them... Then with “This Is Your Life”, again that was a song I’ve always loved and has always been on my ipod - particularly the (1977-released) version by Norman Connors that featured Eleanore Mills as the vocalist. And so with me being a massive fan of Jimmy Webb as a songwriter - I mean, he’s written like a million hits! - that again became an obvious song for me to COVER.”

PETE: So how do you now look back on the experience of performing background vocals for globally-renowned disco Queen Gloria Gaynor?

TRACY: “Oh, that was INCREDIBLE! What actually happened was that some folks who sang background for me were going to South Africa with her, but then it turned out that somebody in the group couldn’t GO. So after they’d called several people who didn’t have valid passports they were like ‘Wait a minute, TRACY’s passport is valid - she’s ALWAYS off doing SOMETHING!’! So they called me, I went... And though I started with Gloria just subbing on two gigs, at the end of the second show they were like ‘We love everything that you’re bringing and so we’d love to give you this JOB!’ - and I eventually ended up acting as her road manager as WELL! And it really was AMAZING just to watch how folks responded to her and “I Will Survive”, and even just coming in contact with some of the people who HIRED her. Because we went all over the WORLD! You know, from Croatia to Germany to Spain - we were just EVERYWHERE all the TIME! Which looking back I think definitely helped me to develop what to do and what NOT to do - which in turn also helped give me a comfort-zone when it came to getting onstage to do my OWN stuff. Because with Gloria I was performing on a major platform for thousands upon thousands of PEOPLE! Whereas if I hadn’t HAD that experience I’d probably today still have a nervousness that I can’t CONTROL! I mean, it was just so frequent and so amazing that I was just completely INSPIRED. Plus it also let me know that folks out there still do want real MUSIC. You know, instead of getting caught up in the whole computer game they do still want real vocals and they do still want real live MUSICIANS... So yeah, overall it was one massive learning experience for me on so many different LEVELS.”

The album “Home” and single “Bring Your Sweet Lovin Back (DJ Spen And Thommy Davis Remix)” are both out now through Quantize Recordings

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