Sunday, April 2, 2017

Rosie Vela - Zazu (1986)

In the 1980s, it seemed like every top fashion model wanted to date a rock star or marry a rock star.  Rosie Vela, long at the toppermost of the poppermost of the modeling profession, wanted to be a rock star.  The Texas-born Vela had long been an aspiring musician, writing songs and playing keyboard instruments, and she'd studied music in college.  So when she got a recording contract with A&M Records, she was more than ready to prove she was not just another pretty face.
Zazu is every much in the vein of mid-eighties pop, its nine songs dominated by synthesizers and heavy, pulsating drums, but Vela distinguishes herself with ethereally personal songwriting and a sultry vocal style - yes, she's a beautiful model with a voice to match! - that suggests contemporary jazz blended with lyrical introspection reminiscent of Suzanne Vega's first album.  But she also had three big supporting players - Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, working together here for the only time between the Dan's split in 1981 and their regrouping in 1993, and Steely Dan producer Gary Katz, who produced this album.  They clearly found a kindred spirit in Vela, whose personal ruminations about love and relationships shine with the impeccable taste of Katz's production and the crisp playing from not just Becker on guitar and Fagen on keyboards, but from a lineup of session men that included guitarist Rick Derringer and drummer Jim Keltner. 
It's still Rosie Vela's record.  Her songs, from the light-hearted and warm "Magic Smile" and the bright "Boxs" (no typo, that's how she spelled it), brim with imaginative lyrics and honest emotion, with a pulsating, jazz-influenced sound.  "Fool's Paradise," the opening cut, offers some punchy percussion and stinging guitar, while "Interlude," despite its slightly mellow vibe, has a strong drum-and-keyboard arrangement that adds muscle to her heartfelt vocal.  "Taxi" pulsates with a non-stop, urban whirlwind that brings to life Vela's images of riding in a cab while addressing her lover, while "2nd Emotion" simply rocks, with Rosie displaying more energy than her already pumped backing band.  And the closing title track?  You get so lost in the dreaminess of "Zazu" that you're sorry it couldn't go on longer.
In an ideal world, Rosie Vela should have gone on to an esteemed singing career like her fellow model Whitney Houston did, but despite Zazu's moderate success in Britain, listeners in her home country passed it by, and Rosie never released a follow-up.  Too bad.  Having no doubt done her share of catalog work as a model, she could have produced a substantial catalog of a different sort. 

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