Blog: B.L.A.C. Music: Penny Wells

n the seven years since her debut album “Shine,” Penny Wells has experienced her share of sunshine and rain. But working on her sophomore effort-an album of songs by legendary composer Burt Bacharach-helped remind Wells that while raindrops may fall, the blues they bring can never defeat her.

Detroit native Penny Wells’ sweet, buttery voice and jazzy vocal style scored a hometown hit in 2004 with “Free to Walk Away,”-the first song she ever wrote-on her debut album “Shine.” She then earned a 2007 Detroit Music Award as Outstanding Gospel Christian Vocalist for her work on Al McKenzie’s album “A Reason to Be.”

But she and McKenzie, her producer and label president at AMAC Records, took a slight detour as they prepared Penny’s second album. “We were going to do another original CD,” she explains. But in an effort to expand her audience, they decided to reinterpret a set of Burt Bacharach songs. Her new album, “Close to You,” was released last month.

The catalog of songs written by Bacharach include classic upon classic recorded by Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis, Luther Vandross, The Carpenters, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Isaac Hayes and many other stars. On “Close To You (Penny Sings Burt),” Wells and McKenzie reinvent and update the timeless compositions for a new generation.

This is something of a departure for Wells. The self-penned songs on “Shine” were extremely personal. On “Free to Walk Away,” Wells granted herself permission to let go of the failed relationship she had with her son’s father. Could she reach that level of intimacy and immediacy with another writer’s work?


“Dealing with the lyrics on those [Bacharach] songs opened up a whole new world for me,” she says. Forty-year-old Wells cites “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” as a tune that took on new shape and meaning as she explored its intricacies.

“‘Raindrops’ was a song I grew up with. This happy song made me think of childhood,” Wells laughs.

Her childhood was filled with happy music. “My whole family is musical, on both sides,” says Wells. “Pretty much, it’s a rite of passage to sing.” She began playing piano and violin at age 5.

Wells credits her Mumford High School choir director, Deirdre Thompson, with pushing her into the spotlight. “I did more harmonies and group stuff, but she recognized me as a talent that should be out front. She gave me a solo, and I said, ‘OK! I guess I can do this.’”

Motown legend Sylvia Moy motivated young Wells in a different way. The Hall of Fame songwriter mentored youth in a program called Teen Profile. “She gave some of us an opportunity to come to her studio to record,” Wells remembers. Moy, who knew Wells as a violinist, was always encouraging. However, after Wells sang at the studio, Moy told her, “You stick to that violin, OK?”

“That comment stuck with me,” Wells says, and it made her more determined than ever. “I said, ‘OK, I’m about to be a singer for real.’”

That determination-she calls it being “hard-headed”-keeps Wells going when rough times inevitably come. Since the release of her debut album, Wells has gone through a divorce and become self-reliant for the first time in her life, raising her three children alone.

Her son Kyle Hall, now 19, has become a noted dance music producer and DJ in his own right. He travels the world performing his own music. That leaves Wells “holding it down” with daughters Hanna, 13, and Aria, 10.

“I’m learning to live my life in a whole new way,” she says. This is why the lyrics to “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” are so meaningful to her.

“When I was a child, it seemed so simplistic, but the rain is a metaphor for the things that may get you down in life-the hard times, the struggles and the challenges,” Wells reasons. “[The song] is about how you choose to live your life in spite of those things.

“I’ve had quite a bit of rain,” she admits. “But I’m still dancing in the rain, you know? I’m letting it roll off.”


Facebook Comments



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here