I Used to Be

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Lenny Kravitz and Living Colour accomplished something that Gail Ann Dorsey was unable to accomplish: they demonstrated that an African-American artist could, in fact, become a superstar with an R&B-influenced approach to alternative rock. Dorsey’s excellent debut album, The Corporate World (a 1989 release on Warner Bros.), was too rock for R&B stations, but at the same time, many rock programmers no doubt assumed that because she was black, she must have been urban contemporary — and the same problems persisted when Island released her sophomore outing, Rude Blue, in 1992. Not that Dorsey hasn’t done well for herself in the music industry; anyone who traveled all over the world as David Bowie’s bassist in the mid- to late- ’90s and early 2000s has a lot to be thankful for. Still, it would be nice to see Dorsey enjoy a big commercial breakthrough as a solo artist, and this 2004 release demonstrates that her talents as a singer/songwriter haven’t suffered a bit over the years. The impressively consistent I Used to Be, Dorsey’s first solo album in 12 years, isn’t a radical departure from her earlier recordings; the Philadelphia native still favors a very R&B-influenced approach to pop/rock. Despite that R&B influence, urban stations are unlikely to embrace introspective gems like “Philadelphia” and “Nether Land” — this alternative pop/rock/adult alternative disc is much more likely to appeal to a Sarah McLachlan/Indigo Girls/Joan Osborne type of audience. It’s regrettable that Dorsey hasn’t provided more solo albums over the years — regrettable, but understandable considering how busy she has been as a session player. Nonetheless, those who remember The Corporate World or Rude Blue have kept hoping that Dorsey would eventually record some more albums of her own, and she doesn’t disappoint us on this rewarding CD.
Review by Alex Henderson