Fight or Flight?
By her own account, Ottawa-based Kellylee Evans’ jazz-infused brand of world-beat soul is “Sade meets Erykah Badu meets Sarah Vaughan meets Norah Jones—in the Caribbean.” It seems a rather boastful description, especially coming from a neophyte with a grand total of one album to her credit. Yes, Evans did place second in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition, as judged by such obviously credible arbiters as Quincy Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jimmy Scott, Al Jarreau and Flora Purim. And yes, she did earn a scholarship to study with Christian McBride. But proof of Evans’ rather grandiose self-assessment must come from the music itself, and based on this album’s dozen self-penned tracks, there’s plenty proof that she can consider herself well on the way to becoming the equal of Jones or Jill Scott or Lizz Wright. Drawing from a deep well of suffering, heartache, tragedy, aimlessness and, ultimately, perseverance that has led to personal and professional contentment—including her mother’s death from cancer, her own near-death experience, sour relationships, wrong career turns, marriage and young motherhood—Evans wisely writes of what she knows.
As powerfully heartfelt (and, because she is a good writer, universal in theme) as her lyrics are, their strength is fully matched by her performances as, armed with a diamond-bright voice of unblemished beauty, she glides effortlessly from the introspective pain of “What About Me?” to the cunning negotiation of “Let’s Call a Truce Tonight” and the sage journey to self-awareness and self-respect that is the mesmerizing “Enough.”