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Allison Lee

At times, Jamaican-born singer Allison Lee's vocals barely rise above a whisper. Her voice is a hushed, waif-like instrument that betrays vulnerability and supreme confidence. That's an interesting juxtaposition for a singer so shy about her talents that until a few years ago, her coworkers at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital didn't know that the full-time anesthesiologist was also a part-time chanteuse. On her recently released debut disc, the aptly titled Been Here Before, Lee's songs work their way under the skin in such an infectious and seductive fashion, it's as if they've existed in some parallel universe and are only now finding their way into the collective consciousness. It's tempting to lock her style midway between the giddy celebration of Carole King and the soft reticence of Norah Jones, but there are strong hints of Aimee Mann, Jewel, and Sarah McLachlan. The title tune bodes well for the rest of the set. Gently lilting in its folk-like tapestry and deft wordplay, it relays a lovelorn tale about a girl who "Made them think she didn't care/She changed her men like underwear." That quiet, beguiling weave of melody and musing grows steadily more engaging, whether it's the remorseful tangle of "Never Stop Running," the meditative rumination of "Beat of My Heart" and "Love Taste," or the all but irrepressible "Backseat," which bears a frisky refrain "Why can't I get you tonight?/How can I make it right in the backseat of your car?" That's a tempting entreaty but no more caressing or compelling than this beautiful set as a whole. On "Beat of My Heart" she coos, "Do you believe in destiny? I do. I do." Given the confidence and craft she exudes here, there's ample reason for her to keep on believing.

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Lee Zimmerman

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