We start our conversation simply. I thank Regina Belle for making some really great music and she is gracious in her response, saying 'thank you' in a heartfelt way that leaves no doubt that she understands where my acknowledgement comes from. When I first started listening to "This Is Regina," her brand new Peak Records album, I was just joyful! The first three cuts were enough for me to be totally hooked: the sensual "Oooh Boy," one of eight songs Regina co-wrote for the project; the soulful "Let Me Hold You"; and "From Now On," a gorgeous ballad duet with Glenn Jones, co-written by Gordon Chambers, Phil Gladstone and producer Barry Eastmond, who was responsible for working on four of the album's twelve cuts. Before I could go any further, I was grooving to "La Da Di," another Belle collaboration which features a rap by MC Lyte and when I heard Will Downing's added vocals on the standout "Someone Who Needs Me," I knew I just had to make the call to set up an interview for the newsletter…
Astute music buyers will know that "Believe In Me," Regina's last CD - her one 1998 set for MCA Records - didn't exactly set the charts alight but cognizant that she had built a loyal following through her four Columbia albums, the relative lack of promotion and exposure the record got didn't deter Regina from pressing on. "There were a couple of years between the MCA album and doing the new record," she states. "Being with MCA was a learning experience in what not to do! It's like the album was a secret: a lot of fans would ask me when I was going to have a new record out and I would tell them I did. It was like a slap in the face after putting all the work into making an album. You do your part and you expect others to do theirs…"
The decision to go with a smaller label like Peak Records was a calculated one for Regina. "When I first started talking with Andi Howard, the president of the label, I told her that before we could get to making the music, I had to know honestly what the company was planning to do with promotion of the album. I wanted honesty. After fifteen years doing this, I admit I don't have all the answers but I do know what it takes. I took some suggestions from them and I let them know I also wanted to get some outside promotion and publicity. There was an openness to that and now that we have a record out, they've acted on what they said. And," Regina adds, "we proved that you don't have to take six to eight months and spend a half-a-million dollars to make a great record!"
And great it is. No doubt, Regina's own participation as a songwriter had much to do with shaping the album creatively and producing a record that is really reflective of her artistry. "It was hard word and it took a little while but that was on purpose. I knew what I wanted to say and at this stage in my career, I can't continue to let someone else articulate who I am musically. I got a chance to flex my wings with this album. Some of the tracks were done with [producer] Ira Antelis (who's worked with Patti LaBelle, CeCe Winans and Marc Anthony among others) in demo form and when Andi [Howard] heard what we had done, she liked it. I got free reign," Regina recalls, "and she trusted me to know I was not about wasting money to make a record. It's about getting the job done, not having an entourage in the studio, hanging out with you. She could appreciate that and we went over different songs - there really wasn't much we didn't agree on. In the end, it was definitely a congruent effort on both of our parts - and a whole lot less going back and forth. When you're dealing with the president who's the one who signs you to the label, you can get rolling…."
The experience with Peak has been considerably different from what Regina encountered when she began her solo recording career in 1987 with the wonderful "All By Myself" album: "My mindset is so much clearer than it was when I first started. I wasn't sure of my position [as an artist], I didn't feel I had the ability to articulate. Now I feel like I have been in the business long enough that when I'm working with people who are not doing their job, I can say, 'you stink!' I mean, at different times, I've had to deal with people telling me, 'you need to sound like this person or that person, or look like this, or be two sizes smaller. I knew I was not going to be comfortable with that anymore. At this point in my career, it was now or never. I had to go back and do this the way I wanted to. I prayed and I said, 'God, if you give me the opportunity to shine, I'll let everyone know it was all because of You. I'd say God definitely put the right people in my path to make this record…"
Regina expresses her gratitude on "What If," the last track on the album which like a number of the other Belle-penned cuts, has a meaningful lyric. "Gotta Go Back" is a stark portrait of a teenager who is pregnant and wishes for a moment she could re-write history but ultimately accepts that after the birth of her child, she must continue on with her dreams for a bright future; while "Oooh Baby" - "a song I wrote in about twenty minutes!" - is a sexy, no-nonsense slow jam. "For me, doing this album is a way of being the light for those artists who came into the industry at the same time I did that may feel like they no longer have a shot. It's much deeper than just the music, it's a spiritual thing. The people know us for our music, not for what we wear or our image which is 95% of what goes on these days [in the music industry]. A lot of people assume that since they don't see you on t.v. and you’re not on the Grammys and so on, you're not doing anything - and you couldn’t be farther from the truth! I've been to Japan, the Caribbean, toured all over the country and I'm also a mother and a wife!"
Thankfully, with all of her activities, Regina did find the time to make an album that is a reminder of the impressive talent she displayed, particularly on her first two Columbia albums. It may have taken a minute or more but her latest project bears a name that is truly authentic. Indeed, "This Is Regina" couldn't be a more fitting title for what is undoubtedly one of the year's very best albums. It's going to stay locked in my CD player for quite a while!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.