Shine, the lush, chamber-soul debut from Durham singer-songwriter Shana Tucker, is an earful. Her sweet, unerring voice alone would be enough to support a career; what makes Tucker special is her adherence to the cello, boldly taking the instrument into new territory. Much like vocalist Esperanza Spalding with her double bass, Tucker and her cello blur the lines in our heads that divide classical, jazz, folk, R&B and soul.
Tucker's heart-driven truths are a goldmine; her melodic inventions reveal novelty without force. Jazzy, rhythmic complexity comes across as infectiously singable in Tucker's hands. Take, for example, the funky "No Get-Back," with escalating backing vocals woven into three-part harmonies (each voice is Tucker's, just multitracked) worthy of The Staples Singers. Or there's "November," the tune most likely to catch a popular wind that could lift Shine to a higher level, like Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car." Tucker's confessional storytelling is her strength; one minute, she's rambling over coffee, but before you can put down your spoon, she has boiled the matter down to its essence. "I miss the month I loved you," she sings, telling the story of everyone who has ever been blown out of the water by a truncated romance, wherever it happened to fall in the calendar.
Tucker's faith in herself—and in a higher power—lights up the title track, as well as the lovely "Simplicity." As part of her codex, Tucker takes no mess, as "Repeat Again" makes clear, a song that begins where her patience with fools ends. Virtually the only emotion not cataloged on Shine is fear. Tucker's debut is a bold piece of vulnerability, meticulously executed and gorgeously produced, with a supporting cast that includes local talents from Eric Hirsh and Stephen Coffman to James Wallace and Chris Boerner. Transcending obstacles, Shine is acoustic music for inner rooms, with the human soul as resonating chamber.