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Artist: Damita
Label: Atlantic Records
Length: 13 tracks

Truth (featuring Toby McKeehan)
This album takes off running with the first six cuts and never missteps during the entire 13 tracks. That's an amazing feat for any established artist, let alone for a debut project by a virtual unknown. Still, Damita, the album, pulls out all the stops nicely mixing up-tempo R&B stylings with ballads that must make CeCe Winans jealous. Damita, the artist, is an incredible new talent to be reckoned with and enjoyed. 

What's the sound? Hard to say, but Damita is no copycat album, while at the same time her singing is reminiscent of all the best. Damita and crew cook up a strong burgoo of styles, mixing them all together until what comes out has hints of everything, but a taste all its own. The recipe has strong suggestions of Tina Turner and Patti LaBelle, along with a healthy helping of Janet Jackson. Throw in more than a little Deniece Williams, some Aretha Franklin, a fair portion of the good parts of Celine Dion, and just a smidge of Mariah Carey. Then just turn up the heat and let it boil, baby. Taste good? You better believe it.

Where did this talent come from? Detroit, specifically. Coached by gospel music's legendary Mattie Moss Clark, Damita found herself singing backup vocals for Franklin, the Queen of Soul Her Own Self. While singing with Deitrick Haddon and the Voices of Unity, Damita was "discovered" -- and Haddon, now also on board as her husband, helps out further with outstanding production on at least eight of the disc's 13 tracks. 

It is rare that such a cohesive album is created on a first attempt. Damita and Haddon co-wrote most of the songs and they display her far ranging talents in the best of possible situations. There is the "Black Cat"-era Janet Jackson-esque rocker "Truth," which features dcTalker Toby McKeehan, in a rare return to rap, proclaiming that "T-Mack is back and I'm free at last." (dcTalk watchers feel free to speculate on that line all you like, but the group is releasing a greatest hits compilation in November which, according to reports, will be paired, in a limited edition, with another disc featuring three cuts from each member's upcoming solo projects. Hmm.)

The sentiment expressed in the song's chorus is a bit old and hackneyed, but the musical freshness makes up for it:

 Truth gonna set you free
 If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything
 Truth gonna set you free
 It'll set you free if you just believe
Damita has an affinity for the mid-tempo workouts, the best of which is "Spirit Inside." On this song she brings a couple of notes up from what has to be the soles of her feet and then draws those babies out in her best Aretha impression. 

The song deals with "it's not about what I say, but what I do" and how the Spirit, living within the believer, can make you "walk right, talk right, take your darkest days and turn them into light." One minor disappointment with this disc is a rare one -- many of the songs are just too dang short. Especially during the up tempo tracks. Just as it seems Damita is smacking on the groove, the song starts to fade. This is especially true on the disc openers "Why," "Truth," and "Spirit Inside." But nowhere is it more apparent than on "Hold On To Your Faith," the discs' musical and actual centerpiece. Following the beautifully restrained "Calvary," which also ends about a verse to soon, "Hold On..." is a great workout. Full of syncopated beats and a gospel choir backup, Damita growls through this tune with conviction -- and leaves you wanting more. That's one of the keys to this release. Undisguised, raw, out there in your face, emotion and passion. Damita is not afraid to put it on the line. She's like Marion Jones, Olympic gold medal runner, in that respect. When she's run her race she has left it all on the track. There is no holding back. She is right there all the time giving all she has -- and it shows.

Another highlight is the duet "The Wedding Song," which Damita and Haddon co-wrote -- and performed -- for their own wedding. The song is a great testimony to the sacredness of marriage and the depth of love couples feel on their wedding day: 

 They said that we couldn't make it together, oh no
 They said that we couldn't stand stormy weather, oh yeah
 But I know, that you are my angel from up above
 I don't care what people say and I don't care what they do
 I'm going to always be with you
 Because what God has joined together
 Let no man tear it apart
 I'm in love with you.
After a powerful workout through the first two-thirds of the album, Damita slows it down for the last three songs, sequencing three ballads in a row, starting with "The Wedding Song."  Then follows "Day Go By," which tells people to "never let a day go by, without saying 'I love you'. Never let a night go by, without showing you care." The beauty of the song is that it works equally well as a secular or Christian song -- and that fits right in with Damita's heart for her work. The unifying theme of this disc is love, both human and divine -- because in Damita's world it seems they are so caught up in each other.

Closing out the project is "Holdin' On" -- an encouragement to those struggling with life and hard times that "there is Someone who loves you, that you should know." This is the message the disc makes over and over again -- and it is fitting to close out on it.

Mike L Ehret 10/13/2000



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