Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sheena Easton: The Singles Of 1993-1995 | 'No Strings,' 'My Cherie'

Following Sheena Easton's 1991 10th studio album What Comes Naturally, as she approached the age of 35, it was perhaps appropriate to reevaluate expectations for a pop career as the pantheon was supplanted by fresh, young "talent." MCA granted Sheena's wish to record the logical (perhaps requisite) next step: a standards album, which showcased her vocal talents and thankfully dismissed the grinding sexuality pervading recent efforts.

No Strings, recorded live, produced by Patrice Rushen and released in 1993, was a critical smash, heralded by jazz aficionados and music critics alike. Even Entertainment Weekly, which tends to sneer at anything without an attached hip factor, beamed that Sheena is "a warm, assured stylist whose affection for American classics is infectious."

Her reading of "The Nearness of You" was plucked for the blockbuster Indecent Proposal (Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson and Robert Redford), featuring Sheena singing in the movie.

She also delivered the gorgeous simple power ballad "A Dream Worth Keeping," from animated  environmental flick Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. The first time I heard the song, in my Arlington, Va. living room, I cried, yes I did, as Sheena reached higher & higher during the bridge to a rafter-raising vocal peak ("I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I know this dream's worth keeping...") on the final chorus. It's one of her finest recordings.

In 1995, Sheena released album No. 12, the underrated My Cherie, among her most consistent collections: melodic, sans any grand effort to appeal to top 40 radio and again, a focus on her beautiful, now mature voice.

It also marked her reunion with producer Chris Neil, who produced many of Sheena's early works, including "Morning Train" and "For Your Eyes Only"—and had now fostered his own acclaim as co-producer of Celine Dion's first English-language album Unison. Other producers on Cherie included A-listers Ric Wake, Narada Michael Walden, David Foster, Glen Ballard and Humberto Gatica.

The title track—an exhilarating midtempo straight-ahead pop nugget that I treasured—was serviced to AC radio, but never charted, followed in various territories by jaunty "Too Much In Love" and power ballad "Flower in the Rain" (which Sheena co-wrote), an ultimate post-break-up anthem of renewed strength.

While My Cherie delivered no hits, I stand by the album as a robust set of coulda-been hits, and it remains among my top five Sheena CDs (among all 15). Singable, sexy "Til Death Do Us Part," with its R&B-lite shuffle, could have easily been a smash earlier in Sheena's career, while swaying harmonic ballad "All I Ask Of You" is as delicious as Neapolitan ice cream, for god's sake.

And then there's "You've Learned To Live Without Me." Oh, mercy. While "To Anyone" (from What Comes Naturally) remains her consummate break-up accord of lament, this pained bombastic piano-driven ballad delivers superlative anguish: "I hear you're doing fine, found other things to take up your mind, you probably don't remember ever loving me." Oh, how it hurts!

On a personal note, shortly after My Cherie was released, my own life took a dramatic turn. I moved from Washington, D.C., after 11 years to New York, where I'd achieved my life-long dream to work as a writer/editor for Billboard magazine. I left the comfort of a three-level townhouse and moved into a 400sf studio apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. There was such romanticism about starting over at 34 in the greatest city in the world, pursuing my career with renewed gusto... and ultimately flourishing there for 14 years.

Admittedly, for me, by this point, Celine Dion was prime competition for Sheena, but with Sheena's memorable new CD, many a night was spent in my tiny apartment spinning My Cherie, singing out loud and strutting across my one room. That album still reminds me of those early NYC months...

And yes, I was still commandeering my own top 100 chart each year, and in 1995, Sheena was (again) the No. 1 artist with six songs: "My Cherie," No. 14; "Flower in the Rain," No. 18, "Til Death Do Us Part," No. 20; "All I Ask Of You," No. 27; "You've Learned To Live Without Me," No. 53; and "Too Much in Love," No. 57.

Meanwhile, Sheena also recorded several soundtrack songs in the early-to-mid 1990s: In 1993, "The Miracle Of Love" was the end theme for a Japanese TV show (released as a single there); 1993's "Is There Anyone" with Julian Lennon from TV movie David Copperfield (in which she provided the voice of Agnes); in 1995, "Now and Forever," a duet with Barry Manilow from The Pebble and the Penguin; and in 1996, "Count Me Out" and "I Will Always Be With You" from animated All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 (also the voice of Sasha). Sheena also acted in TV movies Body Bags and Tekwar, and in series Highlander and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.—proving that there are career options when the chart hits fade... if you're talented enough.

Next up: The remainder of the 1990s, the millennium's Fabulous... and the grand finale wrap-up!