Zhané – Pronounced Jah-Nay [Classic Material]

When S-dub opened the lane for the Classic Material section I immediately started listing some albums that I (and many others) consider to be worthy of an entry. Topping that list and co-signed by S-dub was the debut album by Jean Norris-Baylor and Renee Neufville better known as Zhane. This debut album is magnificent. If you listened to the podcast (and you should if you haven’t) you’ll know that as my man said, I do not hand out rave reviews lightly. If you don’t have this album, cop it. Thanks to Naughty by Nature’s Kay Gee, we were introduced to one of the best female duos ever who blessed us with one of the greatest albums of the 90s. If you already own it then none of what I am about to say will sound out of place and (hopefully it) will coerce you to give it another listen. Let’s get it on.

1. Hey Mr. D.J.
Featuring Fam (Rotten Razkals); Produced by 118th St. Productions (Kay Gee) and Zhané
Picture it Summertime, 1993 a groovy baseline sample starts playing on the radio with some piano chords and violins. The instrumental alone is enough to get your attention. This was the perfect welcome to the weekend, sunny days, family barbeques, and block parties. Jean and Renee’s vocals complimented one another like Slick Rick and talking mirrors. To hear them sing the chorus in unison was the epitome of a merry melody.

2. Intro
Featuring Kay Gee; Produced by Kay Gee
Hey Mr. D.J. was a release from the Roll Wit Da Flava compilation album this “Intro” is appropriately the second track as it is the true introduction to the album. It also gives you the proper pronunciation of the group’s name and a quick synopsis by the ladies proclaiming that you are about to experience something great. They were right.

3. Vibe
Produced by Naughty by Nature
Dial up another groovy baseline and stunning vocals. The great thing about songs such as these is even though it is uptempo; the symmetry is fantastic. The production never overshadows the vocals and the harmony is precise. This song sets the tone for the uptempo songs on the album. Smooth.

4. Sending My Love
Produced by Naughty by Nature and Renee Neufville
Before there were unlimited long distance calling plans, emails, instant messages, and camera phone pictures that could come back to haunt you, snail mail was the primary mode of long distance communication. Back in the day The Marvelettes were awaiting a letter in the mail, thirty years later the tables turned and Zhané were the senders. “Sending My Love” features a ZZ Top bass line that was a very popular sample in the late 80s early 90s. There are more on point harmonies, nice lyrics, and a simple piano chord that gives a tiny glimpse of Renee’s production talent that will increasingly radiate as the album progresses.

5. Sweet Taste of Love
Produced by Renee Neufville
This is the fist track produced solely by Neufville. The piano becomes more prominent and the pace of the song is more jazzy. This song could definitely be the opening number in a smokey, Brown Sugar type of club. Not too fast not too slow, just enough to tease your audio palette.

6. Changes
Produced by Renee Neufville
Changes picks up the pace up a little. The drums and arrangement are simple yet effective. Changes isn’t a bad song but it is definitely one of the less memorable tracks on the set but that is partially because of how good the other songs are.

7. You’re Sorry Now
Produced by Naughty by Nature and Renee Neufville
This is a good track. Naughty and Neufville collaborate nicely because Renee’s musical touch combined with Kay Gee’s hip-hop seasoning creates a rich melodic mixture. “You’re Sorry Now” is but another sample from this baker’s dozen.

8. Love Me Today
Produced by Renee Neufville
Here is where this album really begins to peak. “Love Me Today” is a great song. It’s melancholy feel of pleading for love’s preservation, even if only for the moment, is captured beautifully. The piano and violins during the intro set the tone for an emotional and powerful ballad. Jean and Renee’s voices are interwoven with precision reinforcing their vocal bond which resonates most when the tempo is slowed.

9. Off My Mind
Produced by Renee Neufville
“Off My Mind” is Zhane showing off and flexing their music appreciation with its “flip-flopping” between a throwback Blues/Jazz arrangement and contemporary R&B. This is the type of song that can cause a toe tap, finger snap, or slow sway from folks that are your great grandparents age, right on down to the “youngest” members of Generation X. Norris-Baylor and Neufville met while studying music at Temple University and lucky for us they shared some of their knowledge.

10. La, La, La
Produced by Zhane
Jean Norris only appears on the production side of this album twice; “La, La, La” is the first of those contributions. Both Jean and Renee collaborated on this song and it mirrors many of the sentiments I expressed about “Love Me Today”. The soulful singing and accompanying horn have love, longing, warmth, a glass of wine and a fireplace written all over it. While the title and chorus are simple enough, it’s the front end of the chorus and its delivery through Jean and Renee’s back and forth that makes this song amazing. The song is like the lyrics say, haunting, but in a very, very good way.

11. Groove Thang
Produced by Naughty by Nature and Renee Neufville
“Groove Thang” was Zhane’s second single and it picked up where “Hey Mr. D.J.” left off. While the ballads will lull you into feeling like this is the slow point of the album this song perks you back up. It says don’t get too relaxed because they still want you to move. Again we see that Naughty-Neufville colabo which is perfect for the grown folks parties. Now we weren’t grown per se when this album dropped but the music was perfect for a party then and still to this day. It’s a hand clapper with great harmony; just what every jam needs.

12. For a Reason
Produced by Jean Norris
This song is “last” for a reason, it’s phenomenal. Produced by Norris the piano chords are elegant and the singing is soft…in the beginning. While the piano is lovely on its own, Jean and Renee’s voices climb the chords and keys with fervor and the beauty of their voices reach their zenith.

13. Hey Mr. D.J. (remix)
Featuring Fam; Produced by Naughty by Nature and Renee Neufville
The 90s was the decade where remixes were born and almost required for any hit song that strong armed its way to the top of the charts. Now when I hear the Grover Washington, Jr. sample used for this remix it makes me think of running from the “cops of [suffer] county” but it provides a nice backdrop for this joint. With the exception of the sample everything else on the track remains the same.

Bottom Line:
Pronounced Jah-Nay is what you need in your life. If you like Patrice Rushen, Alicia Keys, hell even Tori Amos or any other fabulous female singers with an affinity for the piano, Zhane is one of the better groups to do the damn thing and this album is a must have. If I had the loot I would cop 5 digital copies and randomly (or strategically based on reader participation) give them away (not a bad idea for soulections). Get this album and I want my thank yous and props later…yes, I’m that confident. Enjoy yourselves.

Soulections: Tracks 1, and 3-12

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Bulk Email Sender