Personnel: Andy Caldwell (vocals); Isabel Lozano, Gina Rene, Latrice Barnett, Lisa Shaw (vocals); Gabriel Rene, Philippo Franchini (guitar); Scarlett Etienne (background vocals).
Producer, songwriter, DJ and former Soulstice member Andy Caldwell has a huge catalog of songs to his credit but amazingly, Universal Truth is his debut album, one that's been five years in the making. And it was worth every minute, because Universal Truth has been crafted to near perfection. "Don't You Love Me," the set's first single, is already making a splash with its old-school meets the new sound, its funky bassline, slamming beats, and Amma's strong vocals sure to stir to action even the most wilting dancer. "Warrior" and "I Can't Wait" have also both seen action in the clubs. The former boasts a classic house style, but is wrapped in rich atmospheres and fueled by Lisa Shaw's warm, throaty vocals. "Wait," in contrast, showcases the soulful Omega, whose emotive voice and shimmering harmonies are accompanied only by understated beats, exquisite sax solos, and Philippo Franchini's lilting acoustic guitar. Gina Rene receives similar regal treatment on "Miss U," where her powerful vocals are backed only by Tom Hain's equal potent piano. The vocals are uniformly superb throughout the set, with Latrice Barnett's performance on "The Stars" particularly sparkling, and Lisa Shaw's soul-fired delivery on "Universal Truth" also worthy of note. Caldwell lavishes attention on his singers, but still has equal regard for Franchini and Gabriel Rene's guitars, which he features prominently throughout the set. Be it the fiery rock of "Runaway," which echoes with '80s new wave, or the breezy pop-laced "Pushin'," the Spanish splashed "Brand New Day" or the chiming "Miss U," the guitars add a counterpoint to every song's styling within. As do Caldwell's own basslines, which are just as eclectic and range from funk-fired to reggae-fied.
Caldwell's production is phenomenal, further shading and shadowing the carefully constructed atmospheres, highlighting musicians and vocalists alike, and tautly tying together songs comprised of seemingly opposite genres. As diverse as the set's sound is, though, it beautifully hangs together as a whole, and is instantly identifiable as the artist's work, and some of his best at that. ~ Jo-Ann Greene