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  • Cy White

Cynthia Erivo: Ch. 1 Vs. 1

Nobody with a brain would ever deny Cynthia Erivo's voice. It's that delicate balance of soft, crooning and strength that makes her a formidable stage actress and a genuinely great studio artist.

That being said, her debut album, Ch. 1 vs. 1, does fall flat in terms of diversity. As with many stage artists, when put in the studio, as a means to maybe prove themselves, prove their mettle when not supported by lights, acoustics and a cast, they still have the same effectiveness. Unfortunately, they tend to opt for music that is meant to highlight that more than it is to separate the artist from it. They go for the strongest (usually ballads and midtempo numbers) boldest composition. Dramatic and theatrical without the actual help of the theater. While it does play on their strengths, it limits the breadth of material.

Erivo somewhat falls into the same category. You'd be a fool to deny that the dramatic and theatrical doesn't compliment her powerful vocal performance. But it creates an album that's less interesting in full context.

There are moments of interesting construction both vocally and composition-wise. Track "Day Off" makes interesting use of overdubbing and reverb to give Erivo an ambient atmosphere to play in. It adds so much texture, rich and ethereal, to her already plush voice. More of this type of water-textured composition could do wonders to separate the stage singer from the all-round vocalist. Give her something that breaks tradition to break her away form the structure of the stage.

"A Window" plays a bit more on that same nuanced construction. Though it manages to also blend the ostentation of the stage with something more subtle, it does so relatively well.

Lyrically, Ch. 1 vs. 1 is as dramatic as any script Erivo has read from. Poignant at moments, but more over-the-top in terms of scope, speaking of heroes, angels, bravery. Broad-stroked themes that have more impact on stage or screen than the intimacy of a studio album. Typical and unsurprising lyrics that don't really showcase the emotional depth that belies Erivo's talent.

However, the mostly a cappella "Tears" does the most to bring all of these elements together: ethereal, nuanced composition with lyricism that reaches deep without trying to be over-dramatic for the sake of creating drama. It's a beautifully multilayered track that's both otherworldly and down-to-earth. Each aspect acting as a layer and giving the song its dimension and depth. It's a rare moment of absolute clarity in terms of the album's direction. Tracks like "Tears" and "You're Not Here" hint at incredible depth in Eriva's arsenal that doesn't rely on dramatics, just pure, honest emotion that doesn't insist upon itself.

Ch. 1 Vs. 1, while a bit disjointed and inconsistent in terms of the emotional grip you'd expect from an artist such as Cynthia Erivo, is still a beautiful piece of work simply because it's Cynthia Erivo.

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