As a huge fan of Haley Reinhart since the earliest days of her Season 10 American Idol run, I have eagerly, hungrily and obsessively anticipated the seductive siren's debut album since her elimination from the show during Top 3 week last May. At times, it seemed as if album day would never come. Beginning with her October move to LA, Haley almost immediately began logging countless hours in the studio, feverishly writing and recording album tracks with some of the music industry's top producers and songwriters. This intensive, 3 month creative period would result in her recording an album that by any measure should be considered an incredible debut effort. It also showed us something we didn't know: Haley is a very good song writer. She technically may only be 21 years old, but the girl has been infused with music since birth by her parents, who have had their own rock band since before Haley was born. Her knowledge, appreciation and understanding of music history runs deep, and she certainly showed she has the ability to draw from it in the stories she crafts in her lyrics, musical arrangements, and the catchy, sometimes hypnotic melodies of her songs. In interviews, Haley's struggled to define the sound of her album, but usually has settled on saying she was going "retro with a modern twist". On Listen Up! she was very successful at striking this tricky balance, as the album does have a throwback sound, but is definitely not old-fashioned. Haley's incredible versatility as an artist is also on display, as she successfully infused Motown, disco, rock, reggae, pop, soul, hip-hop, R&B, funk and even some hints of her famed jazz vocal stylings. Of course, no element on the album is more prevalent than Haley's sultry, sexy vocal tones that turn up the heat on virtually every song. When discussing the album, Haley's said she really wanted to make it raw and organic, but, if I have one criticism of Listen Up! it would be that production got a bit heavy-handed at times. I did appreciate some of the production effects, just not the lazy or gratuitous ones. Would have liked Haley's voice left alone more, and adding electronic drum beats and synth strings to certain arrangements only served to detract from her authenticity and allure. My suspicion is the producers decided synth would make the album sound more current, but I disagree with this thinking. Haley arranged a great blend of old and new without needing such artificial imposition. That said, from this music lover's perspective "Listen Up" is a joyous feast for the ears, and will send you on a fantastic ride that can at times blow your mind. How refreshing to have a full 14 track album without any useless filler (you have GOT to buy the deluxe version). I enjoyed listening to Listen Up from beginning to end without ever reaching for the skip track button. VERY well done, Haley! You are truly gifted. Anyway, without further ado, here is my song-by-song review. Oh My! - Expected to soon be released as the 2nd single off the album, "Oh My!" harkens back to Donna Summer's "Love To Love You Baby" in the sense that Haley spends much of the song having powerful "Big Os" [note: censors prevent use of the full word]. The Motown arrangement is contrasted with deep blaring horns, heavy production, and a ridiculous rap interlude by B.o.B that's obviously a sellout to Top 40 radio. While this tune is certainly catchy and fun, it's also a bit of a noisy mess for me. Free - The first single off the album, Free is about mercifully ending a sour relationship as nicely as possible, and showcases Haley's bluesy, sultry, jazzy tones with minimal production. I particularly love the crashing symbols as she hits her opening verse, and the hard driving drum beat accompanying her vampy stylings. Definitely one of my favorites. Liar - A rock/soul vibe with a good back beat and cool phrasing, Haley seems to be willing to tell herself anything she needs to in order to stay with Mr. Wrong. Wasted Tears - A catchy Motown track about recovering from heartbreak, this song hearkens back to early Supremes with lots of horns. Think "Where Did Our Love Go". A fun song that makes you wanna get up and dance. Undone - A piano ballad straight from the Adele school of heartache. While Haley delivers a rich, heartfelt vocal, the synth strings are sappy and the song gets too whiny and repetitive for my tastes. Not my cup of tea, but if you like melodramatic pop ballads you'll love Undone. Now That You're Here - A retro, 70's disco groove with a soulful vibe, this track gets you up and dancing from start to finish. The light, sexy, breezy flow makes it a song everyone will want to sing and clap along with. I'd say it's the catchiest song on the album, because I can't stop singing it. A love song that makes you want a partner to boogie with. Wonderland - A true retro, Motown throwback, one wonders who she's singing about being her man for the past year and a half? (cough...Stefano...cough) I like it, it's got a nice beat and is a sweet love song, but it gets a bit repetitive with the "Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Wonderland" chorus. Keep Coming Back - A funky tune about an ex-lover who keeps working his way back again. Shows off Haley's more forceful vocals, and she tosses in a hint of growl for good measure, too! Good change of pace song, but would have liked it better less synthesized. Some cool guitar licks from Haley's father Harry. Hit The Ground Running - Man, Haley can write some sexy lyrics. This one's about Haley seducing a guy and then dumping him when he falls too deep for her. A killer torch song aching for vamp Haley to get the guys hot and bothered with a blues-rock edge instead of the sunny Motown beat. Still sexy and sultry, but catch her live performances of this one. They're so hot. Walking On Heaven - Another classic 70's disco track, on this one Haley's seeing the world through happy, rose colored lenses and is ready to sing and dance about it. I'm only too happy to sing and dance along with her! Synth heavy, but since it's a disco track it seems appropriate. Follow Me - An interesting track. Heavy synthesized distortions are over-the-top, but the reggae is pretty awesome. Not sure how I feel about this one yet. Spiderweb - This haunting, psycho-sexual rock thriller is absolutely mind blowing. I found myself addicted from the first listen, and consider it the most powerful song on the album. Vocally, Haley's at her seductive, femme fatale best. Love the tender, lullaby piano opening as Spiderweb gradually builds to full on rock before ending with the lullaby piano again. Think "Gold Dust Woman" meets "Whole Lotta Love". If this song doesn't turn you on you must be dead. What You Don't Know - A sweet song about new love emerging from friendship, this classic 70's disco track pulls you onto the strobe-light dance floor rocking the polyester leisure suit. Dust off the disco ball, and shake your groove thing, baby! Let's Run Away - Haley shows off her Reggae chops, and guess what: She's absolutely awesome!! I love the way her tone meshes with the reggae beat, and the track's fun, loving vibe is infectious. Who knew? Get me a margarita on the beach and let me dance to Haley. Final rating: Haley Reinhart's "LISTEN UP!" (Deluxe) = 5/5 Stars
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