Album Reviews: Billy Miles by Billy MilesWith a voice that immediately brings to mind Macy Gray, and jazzy, trip-hoppy production work that's equal parts Erykah Badu and Portishead, it's easy to dismiss Billy Miles and her debut album as the work of a neo-soul diva who's about five years behind the curve. But listen closer: When was the last time you heard a contemporary R&B album that took classic jazz sensibilities, pop smarts and hip-hop flavor and bundled them up in a package this effortlessly cool? No matter how obvious her influences are, Billy Miles' talent is even more obvious, and she seems likely to outgrow the neo-soul tag in a hurry.
Wisely, Miles takes her one premeditated hit single, the irrepressibly breezy "Sunshine," and makes it the album's second-to-last track, where it sounds more like a payoff than a calculated nod towards commercial viability. The rest of the album was produced by Andre Williams, who uses hip-hop beats, jazz samples, and subtly funky bass and guitar hooks to create a smoky, 3 A.M. vibe perfect for Miles' seductive rasp of a voice. Few tracks jump out at first listen, but all are extraordinarily well-crafted. And most, like the smoldering "Who Am I" and the sassy kiss-off "Feelin' Me," have melodies that will lodge themselves in your brain for days -- not in an annoying, pop-ditty sort of way, but more like a fond old memory.
Ultimately, Billy Miles is probably too subdued of a debut to make much of a splash, unless "Sunshine" catches fire on the adult contemporary or R&B charts. Which is too bad, because you won't hear a sultrier, more soulful album this year. Miles is a smart, charismatic singer-songwriter who's clearly in this for the long haul, and as she continues to flesh out her unique mix of pop, hip-hop, jazz and classic soul, she's only going to get better. - Andy Hermann
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