Heather Headley
-This Is Who I Am-

Although she only spent a few of her high school years in this humble burg, Fort Wayne proudly claims Tony-award winner Heather Headley as it's own. Blessed with an exquisite musical ability and a rare gift for connecting with an audience, Headley made her name by originating the role of Nala in the Broadway version of The Lion King. With the release of This Is Who I Am, Heather reveals to the world that she is also a talented R&B singer with a smooth, dark, emotional voice quite unlike the current crop of industry sound-alikes.

The album itself is quite eclectic, exploring the many facets of soul yet without resorting to vulgar lyrics or suggestive "bump and grind" rhythms. Ms. Headley is a woman above such trendy gimmicks and this album is a testament that one can record an album of solid, classic songs that appeal to a broad array of listeners. Of course, it helps that a bevy of top producers were brought in to work on this project, but with for someone with Headley's proven innate gift of song, passion, and vocal finesse, anything less would not be true to the song.

The overriding theme of this album is love, from the highs of "He Is", a joyful gospel-tinged, body-moving homage to good men, to the lows of "Fulltime", a straight-talking ballad. The reggae-tinged "Fallin' For You" was co-written by Headley and features Jamaican dancehall master Chuckie Star, all of which guarantees that your feet will move. "I Wish I Wasn't" is one of many singles from the album, a tear-jerking ballad that showcases yet another facet of the singers rich, honey-coated vocals. Another highlight is "Always Be Your Girl", a duet with Deborah Cox where their soulful, luscious voices mingle and play off each other most dramatically. "Sista Girl" combines a cautionary tale for teenage girls with Headley's neo-Soul pop vocals to create a heartbreaking, poignant, dynamic song. Also enjoyable is the up tempo groove and slightly comical lyrics of "Sunday" and the sassy funky of "Like Ya Use To." Each of the twelve tracks has a unique way of satisfying your musical sweet tooth even if you aren't partial to R&B. they're just that good.

Even a quick listen to this album will reveal why this talented vocalist has been compared to everyone from India.Arie to Anita Baker to Toni Braxton to Celine Dion. With extremely personal lyrics and musical selection that connect with the heart, This Is Who I Am is indeed a true reflection of the talented Heather Headley and the many gifts she has to offer.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, November 2002.