“What We Need” is the newest album from keyboardist and producer Mike Di Lorenzo and a long-awaited follow-up to his 2011 record “Bring it Back”. This project marks a significant change of pace in Mike’s predominately instrumental approach to his albums (save for the songs featuring vocalist Norman Durham on “Bring it Back”) as every track on it is vocal-based. With his years-long knowledge and experience in the music world, Mike was able to reach out to artists like singer/rapper CaiNo, R&B singer/songwriter Anna Moore, UK popstar Sonna Rele, jazz/soul singer Denise Stewart and Joel Kibble of the iconic (and childhood-defining for me) acapella group Take 6. The end result is a truly gratifying listening experience that not only highlights Mike’s skills in composing superb, mood-inducing music but showcases a few voices in the adult contemporary R&B , jazz, soul and pop worlds well-deserving of greater attention.
Kicking things off, we have “Island Breeze”, an absolute highlight on the record due to its irresistible blend of laid-back keyboards and horns, heavenly vocalizing from Sonna Rele, an incredibly catchy hook from CaiNo and even a brief, light-hearted rap from him as well. Following this, we have “Let’s Make Our Love Last” where Anna Moore – who appears on half of the album’s 12 tracks – takes us from the beach setting of the previous song and into a lounge bar and café, treating us to a lyrical call to action to a prospective love interest to hook up with her. Then we get the mid-tempo “Guess Who I Saw Today”, where Denise Stewart makes her sole appearance on the album stand out with her silky smooth vocals which sound ever so elegant over Mike’s jazzy, 90s-inspired breakbeat-laced production.
On the aptly-titled “Girls Talk”, Sonna comes through with a delightful anthem for the ladies, chock full of topics she finds pleasure in conversing with her girlfriends about that, more than likely, WILL fly over men’s heads. Obviously, women will enjoy this song more than men, but that’s not to say men won’t be able to appreciate its warm production and pleasant vocals. The title track performed by Anna feels like a thematic continuation of the ‘missed opportunity’ theme of “Let’s Make Our Love Last”. Here, she broadens her scope from a second chance at love to a fruitful life, with a greater emphasis on the things she actually needs over what she constantly desires. “What We Need” is easily one of the album’s best tracks, thanks in part to its life-affirming message and instrumentation. The song “Time after Time” is yet another album highlight, with its lush, cinematic soundscape and STELLAR performance from Joel Kibble, both of which beautifully evoke the blissful style and sound of late 80s to early 90s R&B and jazz ballads.
The second half of the album kicks off with “Speak Low”, where Anna compliments Mike’s nocturnal production with some sultry, quiet storm-inspired vocals. Afterwards, the tracklist takes an unexpected turn with Sonna’s smoothed-out, R&B/jazz cover of the Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez duet “We Don’t Talk Anymore”. Though I wasn’t keen on the outro where her pre-chorus vocals sounded out of sync with the closing keyboard melody (perhaps this was meant to emphasize the emotional confusion she feels at this point), Sonna successfully managed to do justice to such a beloved song. Even CaiNo gets a crack at covering a Billboard Top 100 song near the end of the album, with his selection being DJ Snake and Justin Bieber’s (Ahh, the irony of placing a Justin Bieber song AFTER a Selena Gomez song in this tracklist) smash hit “Let Me Love You”. Mike’s approach to the song is pretty interesting, as he replaces the tropical house-oriented build-up and EDM drop of the original track with a slower, smoother, piano-driven beat which CaiNo uses to deliver a VERY IMPRESSIVE vocal performance.
With the exception of CaiNo on the album’s penultimate track, Anna is assigned the task of concluding “What We Need” – which she accomplishes in a trifecta of terrific tracks. First, we have “Runaway”, whose adult contemporary radio-friendly production and lyrical passages reminds me of mid-90s-associated R&B/soul acts like Des’ree and Oleta Adams. Up next, Anna delivers one of the best songs on the record with “When I’m With You”, a sexy yet heartfelt tribute to her partner set to a sensual, keyboard and sax-driven beat. And on the album closer “Take a Chance”, Anna exhibits a noticeably peppy demeanor as, in a continuation of the life-affirming vibe of the title track, she’s given a new lease on life. The eagerness to take the next step into a fulfilling life resonates throughout the track, from Mike’s upbeat instrumental to Anna’s vibrant vocal delivery, both of which help to close the album on a satisfyingly positive note.
As a whole, this was a highly enjoyable jazz/R&B/soul album with versatile, textured production from Mike Di Lorenzo and fantastic lyrical and vocal contributions from his guests. Fans of those three genres will find a lot to appreciate and enjoy here, but for those who’re simply looking for the next great easy-listening record to vibe out to, “What We Need” is exactly what you’re looking for!
OVERALL RATING: 8 out of 10
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