With Echo, Leona Lewis is a woman on a mission. While Spirit was designed to introduce the winner of the third season of The X Factor to the world, her follow-up record has loftier goals. Constructed to solidify the 24-year-old popster as a legitimate talent, the record soars with a nice combination of dance floor cuts and classic ballads.
“Nice” is the name of the game for Lewis, who gracefully manages to sidestep the trappings of diva-ness with every note on Echo. Nothing is strained or snooty and she manages to come across as a humane, natural vocalist with amazing pipes.
Part of what works for Lewis is part of what may work against her, however, as she threatens to tumble into adult contemporary territory with her clean, unfussy technique and the straightforward likability of her songs. Lacking an edge, she must prove that she can get by on talent and delivery alone.
Thankfully the talent and delivery are present in spades all over Echo. Lewis worked with some industry heavyweights like Justin Timberlake, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and Max Martin in putting her sophomore record together, too, and that gives the music a touch more panache.
But it’s Lewis’ voice that once again puts the songs over, as her ability to nail damn-near-impossible notes remains as sound as ever. Hers is a voice that is pleasant and warm, even when she floats into the upper registry to attempt what other singers only dream of. Lewis has a purity to her sound, sending a clear message of courage in a time where studio magic augments every half-assed vocalist into “perfection.”
There are different versions of Echo for different markets, with a U.K. version shifting the song order around a touch and including the singer’s take on Oasis’ “Stop Crying Your Heart Out.”
“Happy” kicks things off well, leaning on the architecture of Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” to build to a strong crescendo. The drum distortion is a nice touch, giving the track weight and swagger without overdoing it.
Lewis’ mezzo-soprano range is on full display all over the place, but what’s truly remarkable is how she drops to some of the lower notes. “My Hands” features this challenge as Lewis sings over a soothing organ and floats through the scope of her range all the way to her towering falsetto before the beat kicks in.
“Fly Here Now” lets Lewis out of the ballad box a little bit, giving her plenty of room to coast over a silky disco beat and sliding, sparkling synth. “I want your body here with me,” she sings without sounding out of place.
OneRepublic joins Lewis on “Lost Then Found,” putting down a solid performance that ascends as an anthemic, emotional ballad. And “Don’t Let Me Down” digs deep using a tight studio beat and strings.
Echo effectively builds on Lewis’ Spirit by expanding the texture and technique of the vocalist without pressing too many extra buttons. The songs are sturdy and enjoyable, allowing the vocals to take centre-stage and leaving the ridiculous theatrics and pretension to other lesser pop singers.