"From the funky Latin pulse of "Danca Da Chuva" to the Spanish sultriness of "We Had No Cares" to the shimmering piano introspection of "Such As These", Melas reveals no artistic boundaries."
"Bluesy cover of Leonard Cohen classic highlights eclectic new album from Australia's Joanna Melas"
"Beautiful, eloquent and tasteful is the best way to describe the music and talent of Joanna Melas."
"It is rare to find a singer who is equally talented in multiple song styles, but that is exactly the case with Joanna Melas. Fast, slow, sensual, spiritual - she makes anything sound incredible and the best part is, the listener can tell through her delivery that she is immensely enjoying herslf no matter what she is singing. A Natural Selection is the Australian's first solo project and she benefits immensely from the prowess of co-producer Phil Tweed and other top notch local musicians.
Melas is fortunate to have a sustainable career with her singing and thus has become accustomed to performing a variety of covers. She offers a sampling on her debut that incorporate some standards, three originals, and also a refreshing handful of songs off the beaten track. "Break in the Weather" was a 1991 hit for New Zealand pop rock singer Jenny Morris. Melas embraces the funky backbeat and incorporates wonderful vocal stacking in the chorus. Saxophonist Craig Walters plays awesome fills throughout the riving beat and gets to play some fun whimsical musings during the slow break before the backbeat pumps the vocals back in to take the song out. Another lesser known, albeit catchy number, is "Fly Too High" by Janis Ian. This 1979 upbeat rocker incorporates nice brass and saxophone work coupled with Melas' confident vocals, the song exudes power and energy.
Jumping a decade, the Leonard Cohen penned "First We Take Manhattan" was recorded in 1987 by Jennifer Warnes and is a cool blues number. Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar on the original track and the guitar talents of Dieter Kleemann on Melas' version are more than credible. She lays her heavy vocals on thick to match the style channeling Carly Simon or Linda Ronstadt. Melas switches gears for a softer, more gentle approach for the sultry "The Look of Love" originally sung by Dusty Springfield for the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale. Stewart Kirwan gives an excellent muted trumpet performance and Melas' background vocal arrangements are stellar.
Another popular soundtrack song "For All we Know" from the 1970 film Love and Other Strangers became immensely popular a year later when it was recorded by The Carpenters. The running eighth notes in the piano lay a firm foundation for this soaring ballad and Melas sings as lovely as ever. Her range though cannot match the deep, rich alto of Karen Carpenter, but nonetheless Melas offers a fine rendition a few keys higher. A more unique cover presents itself in the Frankie Valli hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off You". A reggae beat is injected into the verses addiing a new twist to a popular standard. Despite this burst of creativity there is a huge void in the middle schmaltzy section where the big horn parts are normally heard. Walters tries his best to fill in with the saxophone but the song reaches a point of stagnation that could benefit from more orchestration.
Melas introduces three of her original songs on A Natural Selection that are also a real treat. "We Had No Cares" also has an island flavor but sustains its sense of purpose throughout the song. Tweed adds some nice guitar work and Melas' melody takes on a touch of Latin and Bohemian styles. "Danca Da Chuva" is a real stand out. Portuguese for "rain dance" this song captures the spirit and ecstasy of dancing in the rain after a drought. Rich in ethnicity backed with a fun dance beat, Melas delivers an excellent vocal performance from the sensual chorus to the contrasting melodic verses. Even the short bridge adds a brief new musical idea making this fabulous, well crafted piece a pure delight. Melas' last original contribution is the spiritual ballad "Such As These" that comes straight from the Gospel. It is beautiful in its simplicity, lyrical content and showcases Melas' higher cherubic vocal range.
A Natural Selection is an immensely enjoyable album, bursting with talent and creativity. The arrangements, song selections, production and of course performances by all involved, especially songstress Melas, are first rate."
"Born in Australia to Greek and Romanian parents, Joanna Melas is a gifted singer with a passion for innovation and creativity. Joanna’s eclectic musical upbringing also included a love of art, acting lessons, gospel singing, and a multitude of performance venues across the globe. The incorporation of diverse musical tastes shines through with noticeable nods to blues, folk, pop, jazz, and country genres. Notably, only three songs are directly attributed to Joanna, while the seven other songs are remakes of compositions from 1945 –1991.
"Danca Da Chuva” is a Portuguese-titled song meaning ‘rain dance,’ which is a jazzy, Latin dance tune written by Joanna. The opening electronic beat and distant vocals quickly appear a little louder in the foreground as Joanna’s English vocals are accompanied by a heady rhythm with a classic, pop standard flair. The song is an ode to rain after a long drought. Fortunately, the song works equally perfect for dancing the night away. Following up the weather theme, is “Break In The Weather” written by Jenny and Tam Morris in 1991. The funky opening includes jazzy guitar work, keyboards, percussion, and sultry sax amid a danceable beat. The short sax solo takes over as the other instruments fade out as the music slowly comes back into the forefront.
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudia in 1967. The beginning reggae beat, strings, and Joanna’s sweet vocals eventually take the song into a pop standard direction after a minute or so. However, the reggae beat returns after the pop standard chorus commences. The music is almost indicative of a Broadway tune with all of the jazz, show-tune type vocal calisthenics, percussion, and keyboard stylings.
“We Had No Cares” is the second song written by Joanna. The song opens with a flamenco flair, percussion, and gypsy element. The Spanish rhythms and fancy keyboard playing are reminiscent of South American tango with a dance beat that is not too gaudy.
"Fly Too High” written by Janis Ian in 1979 is an invigorating and danceable song with a jazzy pop standard beat incorporating Americana, roots, big band, and show-tune music. Joanna’s voice successfully matches the undulating rhythms and sounds with such accuracy that the song seems to be born out of her soul. “Love Letters” is a sultry, smooth, and slow song written by Victor Young and Edward Heyman in 1945. Joanna’s wispy, yet steady vocals are backed by piano effects, strings, ear-friendly guitar, and soft percussion. This song cements Joanna’s voice as a gold standard in jazzy pop songs.
“Such As These” is the final song written by Joanna. It is a folksy, spiritual ballad with an earthy guitar, sparkling piano keys, looped beat, and Joanna’s Heavenly voice. The music is not as slow as “Love Letters.”
Joanna Melas’ reinterpretation of classic songs and pop standards successfully melds history with modernity in a fun and playful manner. Most of the songs were born out of Joanna’s performance repertoire over the last few years. Joanna’s crossover talent and multi-genre expertise provide a high-quality listening experience for fans of jazz, Latin, dance, pop, folk, and lounge music. The only disappointment for some may be the majority of the songs are not written by Joanna. Despite this, the songs seem to be a natural fit for Joanna’s vocal range. Overall, the songs span generations and are remarkably accessible for today’s musical crowd regardless of location. Joanna should be applauded for a fine selection and execution of songs without any faults. Whether it is part of ‘A Natural Selection’ process or not is immaterial. A Natural Selection is not Darwinian; but Melas-ian!"
"Joanna Melas stirs in a bit of everything on A Natural Selection, this eclectic offering that somehow travels from Latin beats to churchy gospel, from sweeping 1970s-style pop to jazzed up standards. In fact, there’s so much here that the album almost requires repeated listens.
..Melas opens with “Danca da Chuva,” an original that translates to “Rain Dance” in Portuguese and remains perhaps the recording’s most completely realized track. Here, she brilliantly combines an undulating South American rhythm with an urbane very modern dance sheen. This mechanized samba sounds at once old and new, something rooted in the traditional but yet of the moment.
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” a similar triumph, incorporates a sensuous island rhythm into a lyric made famous by Frankie Valli. Then there’s Melas’ own “We Had No Cares,” with its heady mixture of Spanish flamenco guitar (courtesy of band leader Phil Tweed), far-off Pacific romanticism and gypsy cadence. She and Tweed then turns Janis Ian’s “Fly Too High” into a Steely Dan-inspired R&B-soaked rock shuffle, complete with a series of sharp and swaying brass blasts….
The band is just right..for the smooth pop sensibilities of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, making “The Look of Love” a perfect vehicle for Melas. Stewart Kirwan’s muted trumpet adds a smoky undertone, even as Melas slides effortlessly into a layered vocal accompaniment right out of Dionne Warwick’s glory days.
Her two most overt ballads, Victor Young’s “Love Letters” and the James Griffin tune “For All We Know,” show a wholesome sensitivity that strongly recalls Karen Carpenter, but without the gauzy overproduction. Melas concludes A Natural Selection with her gospel-inspired “Such as These,” this sweetly rendered original that focuses on the innocence and joy associated with children. Spend some time with this one, though. That pillowy conclusion ends up sounding just as surprising, in its own way, as this album’s bustling opener -- and, really, almost as successful. It simply takes longer to sink in, after the crunchy inventiveness that came before.
On these slower concluding numbers, Melas sings with a deceptive classicism, a timelessness that can be easily overlooked. It shouldn’t be. Melas is just as adept as both the big and small number, that rare vocalist who sounds at home carrying a torch as she does slipping underneath the limbo bar. She’s put out a sweeping testament to that skill, a record that deftly spans that gamut."
"If you looked at the track listing for this album and noticed old warhorse songs like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “For All We Know,” you might just be tempted to pass over Joanna Melas’ A Natural Selection. That’d be a shame, however, because Melas is a fantastic jazz-pop singer who has made a really fine album.
In fact, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is one of the album’s true highlights. This song, which has been the victim of nightclub and Vegas lounge schmaltz for years, is given a hip reggae groove, instead. Melas settles right into the island groove, as though that’s just the way God intended the song to be sung. Melas also reveals her firm grasp of jazzy dance music with the Latin “Danca Da Chuva” and the funk-lite of “Break in the Weather.” When the groove is moving, yet not overpowering, Melas has a winning Sade-like quality.
...If there’s a cooler song than “The Look of Love,” this writer hasn’t heard it yet. It’s a song that really tests a vocalist’s restraint. If you over-sing this one, you ruin it. Melas passes the restraint test with flying colors. She just lays back into the groove, like a sunbather with a cool drink, in a lounge chair on a summer’s day.
The track “Love Letters” has a strong Patsy Cline quality running through it. Melas invests a southern cocktail lounge feeling into it that is darn near perfect. With a voice like hers, it’d really be great to hear her use it on some more contemporary material... hip college radio listeners would likely dig on what this performer can do with modern songs. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is a track that shows off one inventive artist. If she can do it once, certainly she can pull that off many more times. Somebody ought to hook Melas up with a college radio-like station in her area.
...A Natural Selection presents Melas as a natural wonder. You might easily find an edgier album than this one, but you won’t buy a better-sung recording. Joanna Melas is someone to watch. She may well have one amazing album in her."
"Joanna Melas is a singer with a voice that is made for the stage. Her album A Natural Selection features an eclectic collection of stage favorites and originals. The sounds range from Latin beats to a sweet serenades, from reggae rhythms to sultry blues. There is something for everyone on this album. It is a vacation for the ears.
First and foremost, Melas’s voice is utterly amazing. With her cover of the song “Love Letters,” her vocals are as smooth as velvet. It’s sexy, it’s sultry and most of all it’s captivating. Melas radiates with charisma. To be a great singer on stage, it takes more than just hitting all the right notes. To use a cliché, you have to have “it,” and Melas definitely has it! Just give one listening to her original song “We Had No Cares” and you will see. Its Latin flair and Melas’s rich vocals complement each other beautifully. It has the perfect blend of relaxing melodies and energizing rhythms. Her song “Danca Da Chuva” could very well be described the same. Melas seems the most in her element when singing songs that are rich with a Latin influence. In fact, Melas at times sounds quite a bit like Gloria Estefan. She has the same instant likability. She is a star in the making.
Since the majority of this album is cover songs, arrangement is everything. While most of the songs remain relatively close to their classic arrangements, it is the bold compositions that truly stand out. In particular, Melas’s reggae version of the Frankie Valli classic “Can't Take My Eyes Off You,” comes off as sublime. The reggae influence adds an interesting island vibe to the song. This in turn establishes an immensely romantic and intimate connection with the listener. Indeed, if there is one emotion that A Natural Selection exudes, it is romance. Tracks like “The Look Of Love” and “Love Letters” are perfect for sitting in front of a fireplace and sipping wine with that special someone. Joanna Melas is the sound of love. Tracks like “Break In The Weather” feature a soulful and thoroughly enjoyable saxophone solo. Others like “First We Take Manhattan” showcase some extraordinary blues guitar riffs. There is no denying that this album features some stunning instrumentation..
Perhaps the only disappointment with A Natural Selection is that there is far too many cover songs on this album. Melas does an excellent job with performing every one of these covers, but it feels like she has so much more to offer. Her original tracks “Danca Da Chuva” and “We Had No Cares” are by far the best tracks on this album…
A Natural Selection is solid album with songs of romance and pure emotion. Joanna Melas has a smooth yet powerful voice that demands attention… this is an album worth checking out."
"Artists such as Sade, Sting and Michael Bolton are great examples of musicians who choose to bring multiple musical styles and backgrounds together, producing a sound that was unique and that had a broader appeal than some of their more specifically focused contemporaries. Australian vocalist and songwriter-arranger Joanna Melas is an artist that firmly fits into this category of performer, and her album A Natural Selection, is a collection of pop, jazz, Latin and R&B influenced songs that blur the lines of musical genre, while at the same time maintaining a strong sense of musicality and high level of performance that connects each distinctive musical output.
The album contains three original compositions and seven covers of well-known pop and jazz songs arranged by Melas and her musical partner Phil Tweed. The originals are well-written, and each contains a distinctive sound that brings to light different aspects of Melas’ musical tastes. “Danca Da Chuva,” which means “Rain Dance” in Portuguese, contains Latin inspired beats and a soft, joyful melody line that outlines the song’s lyrics in a way that is both engaging and enjoyable at the same time. The verse sections will remind listeners of the Columbian songstress Shakira, though when the chorus breaks in, the smoothness of the vocal line is purely Melas. This is the reason the song is successful, and the album as a whole, that Melas is able to bring an element of the familiar to her music, while injecting enough personality to make the album stand out among the crowded musical marketplace.
The next original composition is “We Had No Cares,” which is also Latin influenced, but this time with a quasi-Montuno beat that reminds one of a Cuban beach on a hot summer’s day. The hand percussion also adds an extra level of musical interest that raises the song from a typical Latin work to a song that stands on its own two feet. As well, “Such as These,” contains more of a pop vibe, with some enchanting vocal harmonies that really enhance the listener’s experience of this piece. The song could have easily been solid without the added voices, but by adding the extra thickness to the ends of certain phrases, the melody and lyrics really spring to life, something that one will appreciate, that extra musical mile that makes all the difference with a song such as this.
Besides the original compositions, the album contains creative and enjoyable versions of pop and jazz standards such as “First We Take Manhattan,” “The Look of Love” and “For All We know.” As with the originals, Melas and Tweed inject their musical personalities into each arrangement, justifying the song choices and providing a new listening experience for people who are familiar with these 20th century classics. Overall, A Natural Selection is a strong effort from Melas, one that blends tradition with her own personality in an enjoyable mixture of new and old that can appeal to a broad range of musical tastes and backgrounds."