Brandee Hamilton will perform from her forthcoming album at The Vanguard
In 2002 Brandee Hamilton was a precocious kid with a curly brown mop of hair singing in her high school choir. She was the second youngest of five sisters who spent their spare time harmonizing over classic ‘90s pop and gospel songs. They even made videos performing silly choreographed versions of Kirk Franklin and En Vogue.
“I remember once we made a video of [Kirk Franklin’s] ‘Silver and Gold’ where I had this super huge beret on with this super tiny ponytail,” Hamilton laughed. “I had on tube socks and this oversized t-shirt. I don’t know who dressed me that day.”
Even as a child, her musical energy was infectious; one of her high school counselors quickly recognized Hamilton’s potential and set her up with a job at a small Tulsa recording studio, where she earned enough to record her own songs. Hamilton worked her way up as a receptionist and recorded a small demo, which earned her enough attention to land an audition with the renowned R&B/Hip Hop group Charlie Redd and The Full Flava Kings.
“The way that happened was just, like, divine,” she remembered. “We were playing with this band called Mystified. Word got out to Charlie because they were looking for singers. I stayed singing with them for almost three years. When the band went to Vegas later that’s when I said ‘I’m not gonna stop just because they’re leaving. I’m gonna try and get my own thing cracking.’”
Years of quiet work in martini bars and Tulsa clubs pushing her voice to its limits are finally starting to pay off. Six months ago, Brandee gathered some of Tulsa’s finest players at a small studio downtown to record an album and create a live multimedia music experience unlike anything she’d ever imagined.
“I’ve always been a fan of Brandee since the first time I saw her,” said Bobby Moffet, aka Black Keyz, Hamilton’s husband and keyboardist. “She stood out from a lot of the female vocalists that were in rotation around the time just because she was a straight powerhouse with it. She was doing covers, but making them her own rather than just singing them verbatim. She’s the type that gives you chills when they sing. She’s got that anointin’. You know?”
Joel Wade mixed the album at Blue House Studios, where we met for this interview. “That’s a 1917 Steinway out there,” Wade said. “When Bobby plays that instrument with that old B3, which was Leon Russell’s—when you start to add those live elements with the programmed stuff there’s nothing that can replace that sound.”
Hamilton’s sound is a bit of a hybrid, blending facets of neo-soul with loose elements of jazz and blues. She describes her influences as lesser-known modern soulful voices like Moonchild and Daley—artists that combine unique genre-bending arrangements with complex vocals and more traditional pop song structures.
The album’s first single, “Weekend,” features traces of hip-hop rhythm with striking syncopated swells of the B3 organ Wade mentioned, which hold the tracks’ polished groove. One of Hamilton’s favorite cuts, the song “Way Back Home” (featuring Tulsa artist Delacroix) hovers in the space of a gospel song, with her band’s organic instrumentation blended with contemporary rap verses. These elements, remarkable on their own, act as the foundation for the passionate and often overwhelming power of Hamilton’s luminous voice. Sometimes sultry and understated, other times visceral and dense, Hamilton’s voice is the vital center of these songs.
Hamilton’s album showcase on August 19 will be the first opportunity for the public to hear these new songs live. With a multimedia performance piece, video elements, live dancers, and a host of talented local mus-icians, Hamilton hopes to create a complete concert experience.
w/ Aaron Brave and DJ JB Smoove
The Vanguard | Fri., August 19, 8 p.m. | $10 in advance, $13 at the door | thevanguardtulsa.com
For more from Damion, read his article on Animal Names.