Pops Fernandez MOMENTS
Viva Records (VCD-99-046) 1999
Review by David Bruce
Long Beach, California, USA
When I first heard this disc, I was relatively new to Pops Fernandez. But, from the first notes of the beginning of the disc, I was drawn in -- not pulled, but lulled in. Not really knowing what to expect, I listened with an open mind. What transpired was that I had an album that I ended up listening to over and over (I should note that I'd originally bought a cassette copy of this, and had to get a CD so I wouldn't wear it out). Though many of the songs on MOMENTS are about lost love, it has a certain comforting feel about it. I have tried to give an analysis of this album, track by track, below.
"After The Love Is Gone"
From the beginning of Pops' vocals, one gets a sense of warmth. This is a woman who's sharing the trials and tribulations of love lost, but it's not in a whining sense, but in an educational sense, such as, "This is what happened to me, don't let it happen to you." Vocally, it's quite expressive in it's subtlety.
"It's Sad To Belong (To Someone Else)"
I must admit that I never cared for this song when done by England Dan & John Ford Coley. But, it is a completely different song in Pops hands. Pops manages to convey the longing for the person she thought she should have been with, while maintaining her current commitment. Her vocals never become maudlin, which would be too easy with a song like this, but
remain wistful -- just what's required to make this song real.
Pops lets us all into her secret -- all relationships start with that initial reeting. Her understated vocal expresses the fear that many have of finding love -- take a chance, and anything is possible. It would be too easy for a singer to just sing this song all the same, but Pops starts softly, slowly building crescendo as the protagonist gains confidence.
"Come What May"
Pops has obviously heard the original version of this song by Lani Hall and her husband Herb Alpert, yet she does not copy, but makes this her own. The addition of the answer vocals by BLISS are a great touch -- male vocal that isn't a strained tenor, but more relaxed in the baritone range, which perfectly compliment Pops sultry sound.
Unfortunately, I don't know what the text of this song is; not knowing Tagalog, but Pops makes this a sonic drama. The only thing that's not fitting in this song are the synthesized strings -- should have either been acoustic strings, or arranged differently, as they detract from Pops vocals.
"Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know"
It would be too easy for a singer to take this song and make it maudlin. Fortunately, Pops does not go to the lowest common denominator. The best part of this song is that Pops does not sound angry (which would be another possible emotion on this song), but more like "prove me wrong" sounding (for lack of a better term). The change of tone, starting with the descending
bass line works perfectly with Pops growing vocal strength in the song, gathering what seems to be inner strength as the song
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"
This is an almost perfect match of singer and song. Pops makes this completely believable, and artistic at the same time. The best arrangement would have been for this to have left this a voice and piano duet as it is in the beginning. Fortunately, the arrangement is not overpowering, but in this instance less would have been more -- allowing Pops smooth voice tell the story, letting the listener know her uncertainty more clearly. Can't fault Pops, as she does this song perfectly.
"Just When I Needed You Most"
Pops did Randy VanWarmer proud on this cover. Many singers covering others songs seem, too often, to just copy. That's not the case with Pops, and especially in this song. She adds just the right amount of longing, while letting the listener know through her vocal inflections that she'll survive, though alone.
This song was one of those songs that everyone seemed to do after the success of the musical "They're Playing Our Song". Fortunately for Pops, several years have gone by since that deluge of recordings, and we're able to hear this song with a fresh spin without comparisons to the scads of other versions originally. I must admit that this is the first time I understood every
word of the song -- major kudos to Pops for that accomplishment alone, not to mention that this seems to be another perfect
mesh of song and singer.
"Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang"
Another song in Tagalog, but this time the arrangement and vocals are a perfect mix. Pops sounds lovely when utilizing her lower register -- not enough altos in pop music right now. Though I don't understand what she's singing, I find myself trying to sing along phonetically. She's won me with this one, more than the earlier Tagalog song, "Paano".
"How Do You Keep The Music Playing"
I'd thought that this song was about a breakup when I heard the Patti Austin & James Ingram original. But, in Pops' deft hands, we the listeners learn that this is really about the optimism that there is a way to keep a relationship alive through the years. It was a pleasant surprise that Pops sang this solo, much like Pia Zadora did in the early-90's, but adds the duet answer parts softly via background vocals. That touch makes it more like hearing the person talk, and their inner thoughts as well.
"Don't Cry Out Loud"
This song is the only dissenting point of the whole album. Parts of the vocal sounds forced, and uncomfortable for Pops, almost
as if this were an alternate take. Additionally, the key change that was meant to increase the drama only accentuates how
uncomfortable the singer sounds. This would have been better with a more minimal arrangement, possibly in a lower key, and
less synthesizer. Not the best of choices for inclusion on this album (other than topic).
"Where Is Love"
This song, originally sung by the young lead in the musical "Oliver", has been done to death, and no one seems to breathe anything new into it -- it's always sounded like something for a girls chorus to me. That is, until this version by Pops. Pops manages to breathe new life into this less-than-opus-type song by occasionally adding vocal emphasis and playing with the rhythms ever so slightly, much like a jazz musician will slightly twist notes. Again, Pops shows that one doesn't need to add histrionics, but it's the subtleties that get the attention at times. Pops made this trifle of a song into a major winner.
"Goodbye To Love"
Anyone trying this song will be compared to Karen Carpenter. Fortunately, Pops again does not imitate, but attacks this anew and fresh. Pops does her wonder best, vocally, on this song, but is occasionally hampered by a less than stellar arrangement (too close to the Carpenters, even to the electric guitar). The best part of this is Pops' voice -- she makes you believe every
word, and sounds great doing so; the perfect ending to an album that appears to be dedicated to love and loss.
This is a great album for anyone who likes believability in a singer with a warm and caressing voice. True, Pops is not a belter, but neither are/were other great singers. If all singers sounded the same, it would be very boring (no comment on the current state of top-40 music here). Pops is a breath of fresh air in an era of overly wrought female vocalists intent on showing off with their extensive use of melismas* and/or acrobatics. Billie Holiday didn't have the greatest vocal range, but was able to convey the honesty and emotion of any song she sang (even a triviality like "What A Little Moonlight Can Do). That's what Pops has on her side -- she's believable, and sound darn good while doing so.
This album focuses on ballads, which is one of the harder forms of pop singing. Pops allows each of these songs to shine (even "Don't Cry Out Loud") without trying to overshadow the song, seeming more like each song is a garment she's wearing, not throwing at the audience. Instead of reaching and grabbing the listener and shaking them, she offers a gentle invitation to listen, which is all the more compelling, making the listener want to snuggle in and truly listen. A more balanced album might have included a couple of up-tempo songs, and I initially thought this was too ballad heavy, but after repeated listening it works perfectly. Not everyone want to scream, shout and rage when love's gone bad, and Pops gives voice to the wistful, inward
ways that some deal with loss.
On a scale of 1 to 10, this album gets a definite 9 (only reason for not getting a full 10 has to do with the arrangements, and the song "Don't Cry Out Loud"). This is a must-have for anyone who likes understated, yet emotionally full performers. Listen, and imagine how incredible this performer would be in the best of surroundings: just piano, just acoustic guitar, jazz trio (piano,
bass, drums), or full orchestra. Nirvana.
*Melisma A succession of different notes sung upon a single syllable.