Just in time for the 2008 sunshine season, Ivana Santilli quietly returns from New York/London to remind us that Nelly Furtado isn’t our only chanteuse who is young, gifted and Euro-Canadian. In her absence, many lesser vocalists have claimed positions that Santilli could have conquered if she wanted to be Timbaland’s next investment, but she stuck to her convictions and kept climbing the same path she’s been on since Brown.
Spending a few years abroad has matured her singing substantially. She occupies a space between Esthero, Goapele and Corinne Bailey Rae but is still distinctly her Toronto-born self. Whateva U Want makes for entertaining, motivating dance-floor fodder, but the impact is a bit fleeting. Her airy expressions romantically caress the flesh but don’t often provide that deep-tissue massage (play Mary J. or Lauryn if you want that feeling).
Leave It Alone explores the infectious space-boogie territory that Jamiroquai used to rule, and she carries it well. Been Thru This feels like the intriguing result of a confrontation between Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson in 1982, while the title track is the distant cousin of something created during Prince’s Purple Rain sessions, and Santilli plays the Sheila E. role with convincing grace. Hopefully next time, we’ll get much closer to the heart and soul of this globe-trotting Toronto gem.