Karen Souza – Hotel Souza (2013)

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Embarking on a stay at Hotel Souza is a lot like sinking into silky, cool but familiar sheets. There’s a decidedly old-fashioned air to Karen Souza’s follow-up to her debut Essentials, but there’s also renewed sensuality coursing through its veins.

The Buenos Aires-born, Los Angeles-based singer breathes elegant, alluring phrases and takes us down long, inviting hallways with her textured, well-phrased tones. The song selection at this hotel doesn’t hurt either, with Souza covering everything from “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” to “Dindi.” This type of spread, more brunch buffet than continental breakfast, is as nourishing as it is groovy. The former slinks and sizzles with a slower tempo. Souza’s measured tones glide effortlessly over Dany Thomas’ keys and an impressive horn section. Ray Monteiro’s trumpet adds a little color, while the violin of Edgar Sandoval gives “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” a sexy-cool that updates the tune while admiring the original’s sense of purpose.

Of course, the journey to Hotel Souza starts with “Paris.” Written by Souza, Thomas and Pamela Phillips Oland, the piece is accented by the singer’s Buenos Aries roots and kissed tenderly by a gorgeous orchestral section. “Break My Heart” delves into Souza’s more intimate side with a piano-led arrangement that draws out the finer notes in her tone. She enunciates the heartbreak without overdramatizing it, keeping the piece running on an even keel that eschews melodrama. The last note, one that breaks ever so slightly under the weight of her natural emotion, is a doozy.

It is this inclination to tread the sincere line that makes Hotel Souza such a rewarding stay. Souza’s talents lie not in plunging into big, showy set-pieces but rather in holding back, in restraining and refusing to indulge. Instead, the banquet – and the rich rewards – is for the listener’s ears.

By the time “Dindi” emerges, most hearing Souza’s intoxicating tones will be already setting their reservations for a second stay. But anyone requiring a little extra push in the right direction would be well-served by this rendition; it is haunting and engrossing, yet unquestionably romantic in nature. It also sweeps from one tone to the next smoothly, with Souza’s impeccable vocals leading the way.

“Lie to Me” seems only appropriate to place the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door and sink, once and for all, into the sheets at Hotel Souza. The record is a beautifully spun collection of measured but natural music and the singer invokes appropriate emotions and textures every step of the way.

Karen Souza is, without question, one to watch – and this inn is well worth a stopover.

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Jordan Richardson

Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and ne'er-do-well. He also contributes to his own Canadian Cinephile and Canadian Audiophile websites. Contact Something Else! Reviews at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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