Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Bright and soulful R&B / Pop from Dionne Farris

Remember Arrested Development? Wikipedia aptly describes them as “a positive, Afrocentric alternative to the gangsta rap popular in the early 1990s.” Their 1992 release 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of… had an unbelievable sound. It was perhaps the first Hip Hop album I really got into. It produced several hits, including Mr. WendalPeople Everyday,  (this isn’t the album version) and Tennessee.  I still have 6 tracks from that album on my iPod, including my favorite, U (ignore the first 1:00 of this song). In researching today’s post, I discovered that the band has put out 4 releases since their somewhat disappointing follow-up, Zingalamaduni (1994). I had no idea, but I’m going to see what I can find.

Farris is a tiny woman. I believe that is a child's rocking chair.

Farris is a tiny woman. I believe that is a child's rocking chair.

Anyway, the reason I bring them up is because their biggest hit, Tennessee, featured the considerable voice talents of Dionne Farris. Hers was the soulful wailing in the background of that song and a she sang a couple others with them. She was never actually considered a member of Arrested Development – perhaps due to frequent clashes with AD front man Speech. She released a solo album in 1995, Wild Seed – Wild Flower, that had some excellent R&B / Pop. I’ve kept 4 of the tracks on my iPod.

  • Passion – This is a fantastic track. I can’t believe this wasn’t a major radio hit. Listen to the whole thing. She has an unbelievable voice and gives a sterling performance on this song. The guitar work is great and the song itself is powerful  and just well-written. This is my favorite song she ever did.
  • Now or Later – Another well-written, well-produced song. This one is a beautiful ballad, as opposed to the emotional rocker the last track was. Dig the layered vocal intro. I would expect her to be a sought after studio musician, but more on that in a minute.
  • Food for Thought – As I listened to this again today, I realized that the production on this album was off the chain. Listen to the great use of strings, the clever use of effects on Farris’ voice, the funky, dripping bass. This track features another layered vocal break about halfway through.
  • 11th Hour – After the wrenching, pensive energy of the last song, this one is a tall drink of cool water. It’s very ear-friendly as well; I could see radio liking this song a lot. Again, I am perplexed that she wasn’t more of a sensation when this was released.

The song I Know was actually a pretty big hit for her from this album (#4 on the Billboard Hot 100), but I don’t think it has aged particularly well.

So here comes the part where I theorize why she wasn’t a star. I don’t really know. I only have a couple things to go on. First, I saw her live opening up for the Dave Matthews Band at Red Rocks in Morrison, CO. Good gig, particularly in 1995. I’m not sure it was the right crowd and, of course, no one at all had come to see her. Still, she could have rocked the house.

I remember two main things from the show. First, the sound was terrible – I mean really, really awful. Muddy guitar, too-loud vocals that were distorted. It was hard to listen to and I was already a fan. The crowd was not down. The other thing I remember was her stopping at one point and asking the crowd, “Do you have any idea who the hell I am?” The crowd responded with some cheers and she said, “Oh. Well, alright then,” and continued. So I don’t know if her sound was that bad everywhere she went, but Red Rocks is famous for its great acoustics but her sound guy managed to screw that up.

The other thing is she clashed frequently with Speech and I seem to recall she was pretty outspoken, if not strident. Maybe she alienated some of the wrong people. I don’t know. She had a song on soundtrack to The Truth About Cats and Dogs and had another minor hit with Hopeless (#42 in the UK) in 1997, but she really kind of vanished. Too bad.

She released an album in 2007 on iTunes but I’ve never heard anything from it, unless they are the songs featured on her MySpace page. Go listen to some of them, particularly 4U, the third track, which sounds great.

http://www.myspace.com/theofficialdionnefarris

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June 29, 2009 - Posted by | Hip Hop, Popular, R&B

2 Comments »

  1. Yes on all points. Way back then I wondered why she and this album never became all that they should be, particularly at that time when R&B/soul still had some emotional teeth (before it degenerated into the faux wannabe crap it now is). And not a bad cover of “Blackbird” on the album, to boot.

    Comment by Trina G. | June 30, 2009 | Reply

    • I would at least have expected her to turn up doing more session work for other artists. Why is this woman not a star?

      Comment by missedmusic | June 30, 2009 | Reply


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