Dominique Gizelle,
Deep Down
(Bang On Records, 1999)

I'm a big fan of indie-chick music. Especially now, when it seems that women are coming into their own voices, having more to say, there's a vein of gold waiting patiently to mined commercially where it comes to as-yet-unheard-of women singers.

So I was pretty impressed when I saw the promotional materials for Dominique Gizelle. She's a young actress and singer in New York City with a fair coffeehouse following. She's been played on independent radio stations for awhile now. She's being included on some sort of CD compilation of the best voices in independent women's music.

Pretty impressive credentials. I was impressed before I even cracked open the CD case.

I think it's important to mention what she looks like. Normally, it doesn't matter, but you'll understand in a second.

She's this teeny little thing with a face that is vaguely reminiscent of a young Janet Jackson. She's got this mass of curly dark hair and huge eyes and an innocent, winsome smile. Kind of like a little cocker spaniel, actually.

So needless to say, when I finally put the CD in, I was expecting ... well ... I was expecting a diminutive, high voice and a vulnerability in tone. This is probably why, when the first track spun up and I heard more Annie Lenox than Jewel, I had to blink a few times and reframe what I was hearing. I looked back at the promo photos and tried to reconcile this huge voice coming out of such a diminutive package.

All shock aside, it's that voice that is both Gizelle's biggest selling point, and probably her worst detraction. Let me explain: used properly, that voice could strip the paint off the walls. She's harsh and gritty, and it makes you pay attention, even if you don't want to. The NYC edge is captured inside, and when she gets to belting out choruses and high points, you want to pack up and go be a groupie. It's a commanding force.

The problem comes in in that she decided, misguidedly, to produce this album herself. As a result, you've got a rough-around-the-edges, badly mixed conglomeration of songs that congeal somewhere behind your left temple. Her powerful voice detracts, rather than enhances, and obscures the melody lines so many times that you start to wonder if she rehearsed at all.

Add into the mix some issues with lyrics. Some of them, granted, are strong. The first track, "Luke," has some very strong imagery and a catchy melody line. Track six, "It Won't Be Long," is empowering and complex. Some of the others don't exactly measure up, however. Song 8, "Heart on the Run," has cliches and obvious rhymes abounding, some of them so blatant that it was hard to listen to. ("I don't dare sleep or turn my back / I never know when it'll sneak attack." Ugh.)

I've been sitting here since listening to this CD, wondering how, if at all, this could be brought around. Clean up the lyrics. Get a professional producer. Improvise, but maintain a melody. With someone as naturally gifted as Dominique Gizelle, it's a shame to see that talent going to waste. Without an overhaul, I wouldn't recommend this CD to even my most hard-core indie-chick friends.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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