You can't blame singer Phyllis Hyman for making forays into the lucrative pop genre, in a style that's somewhere between Whitney Houston and Anita Baker. But in her latest efforts to make the transition to Top 40 pop/R&B, she's held back by the lingering influence of her earlier, jazzy show-tune style.
At her Wiltern Theatre concert on Friday (the first of two nights she headlined with singer Will Downing and saxophonist Ronnie Laws), Hyman showed that she hasn't been able to shake her theatrical roots. A tall, statuesque woman with a booming, husky voice, Hyman never seemed comfortable with the commercial pop songs from her new album, "Prime of My Life."
You could sense her grappling with those songs. She had to tone down her forceful vocal style--often to the point of blandness--in harmonies with a male backup singer.
It's possible that Hyman could have a successful pop career. Her material, though, needs marked improvement. At best, the songs from the new album--particularly the dance numbers--are ordinary. None begin to do justice to that first-rate voice.
At one point in the show, Hyman performed songs--like "Take the A Train"--that she used to sing in the theatrical revue "Sophisticated Ladies." Unshackled from those pop restraints, her vocals truly soared. For a short while, the audience got a sample of the real Phyllis Hyman.