Music Review: Summery pop from Daphne Willis

Daphne Willis, “Because I Can” (Vanguard)

Before beginning work on “Because I Can,” prolific pop composer Daphne Willis says she wrote 50 to 60 songs, then picked 12 to record.

Keep ‘em coming, Daphne.

There’s not a dud among these dozen summery tunes. It helps that the 23-year-old Willis possesses a commanding, versatile alto that makes everything swing. She slides gracefully in and out of an appealing falsetto and manages R&B-style vocal leaps of nearly an octave without coming off like some oversinging “American Idol” wannabe.

Willis has clearly studied pop’s past, and the material hints at disparate influences, ranging from Burt Bacharach to Chicago to Norah Jones to Alicia Keys. Willis’ sound is entirely her own, though — cheery melodies, bouncy beats and clever arrangements flavored with Saturday-in-the-park brass. The music remains sunny throughout, even when Willis sings about rain.

This is an assertive young artist, as suggested by such song titles as “Shake It Off,” ”Spit It Out” and “Slow Down.” With a record this good, she has reason to be confident.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: “The Song Song” starts with a piano figure worthy of ”Teaching Little Fingers to Play,” then blossoms into a hook-filled ode to composing. The lyrics lay out Willis’ strategy: Keep things short and simple. She makes it sound easy.

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