The artist that I am going to write about in this article is an object lesson to any artist who is waiting to be discovered. Oleta Adams back in 1985, was an unknown artist who, up until then, had faced rejection at every turn. Then one night in 1985, when she was performing a concert in a hotel bar Kansas City, Missouri, a chance meeting changed her career. 

This chance meeting, was with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, the founding members of Tears For Fears, an English band, popular at the time. They were staying in the hotel she was singing in, after one of their concerts, and heard Adams perform. Orzabal and Smith liked what they heard, and two years later, in 1987, they invited Adams to perform on the next Tears For Fears album.

In 1989, Tears For Fears released their album The Seeds of Love. On the album,  Adams sung a duet, Woman In Chain on one the tracks. The Seeds of Love was released as a single, and became a hit, Adams first ever hit single. When Tears For Fears went on a worldwide tour, Adams was not only the opening act on the concert tour, but also sang backing vocals and played piano with Tears For Fears. 

After the success of Adams work with Tears For Fears, their record label, Fontana Records, offered Adams a recording contract in 1990. This allowed Adams to resume her solo career, that had started way back in the 1970’s. Roland Orzabal of Tears For Fears produced this new album Circle of One, alongside Dave Bascombe. The album was a huge success, reaching number one in the UK charts and number twenty in the US charts. However, when the album was released, many people wondered, who is Oleta Adams?

Oleta Adams was born in 1953, in Seattle, Washington, the youngest of six children. Her father was a preacher, and she was brought up listening to gospel music. During her early years, Adams’ family moved to Yakima, Washington. Her musical talents became apparent early on in life, when she sang in the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, where her father was the minister. Aged eleven, she was singing in four choirs, and was an extremely talented pianist. 

When Adams left high school, she rejected the opportunity to pursue a career as a lyric soprano, and a scholarship to the Pacific Lutheran University. Instead, Adams headed to Europe, and spent a year there. On returning, she headed to Los Angeles, where she decided to pursue a musical career. There she recorded a demo tape. Sadly, the music she had recorded was not what music executives wanted. At that time, music executives were almost fixated on disco music, to the exclusion of other styles of music. This led to Adams spending years trying to get a record deal. Having been unable to secure a record deal, by 1983, Adams decided to take matters into her own hands. She recorded an album Going On Record, in 1983 and released it herself. This, sadly, did not bring her the success she craved, and it was not until Circle of One that the record buying public took notice of Adams, and her fabulous voice.

Following the release of Circle of One, Adams released Evolution in 1993. That was not as successful as her debut, only reaching number ten in the UK, and number sixty-seven in the US. Since then Oleta Adams has released further five albums. Some of these albums were gospel albums, Adams first musical influence, and others were secular albums. Sadly, Adams career has never hit the same heights as she did when Circle of One was released. So why was Circle of One so successful? 

Circle of One has ten tracks on the album. The album starts with a great track Rhythm of Life. This is one of the strongest tracks on the album. This song starts slowly with quite a long introduction, then when Adams vocal begins, it is worth the wait. Adams has a honeyed vocal, with a wide range. She sings the song well, it has a mid-tempo, and her vocal is complimented by a masterful arrangement by Orzabal and Bascombe.

Get Here is a cover of a Brenda Russell song and provided Adams with the biggest hit of her career. In truth, I prefer this version of the song. Adams sings the songs so well, and produces a strong vocal performance. This song starts with a piano track, and Adams sings this song slowly and beautifully. The song sees Adams demonstrating her vocal dexterity again. This song has lovely, moving lyrics and the band play behind the vocal, allowing the vocal to shine. Here Adams gives a vocal masterclass, one that many younger singers could learn a lot from. This, to me, is one of the strongest tracks on the album. 

Circle of One is a very different track to the previous to songs. This is a much quicker song. The sound on the track is a much fuller, and louder sound. The drums are very prominent in the mix, and almost overpower the vocal. Adams still produces a good vocal performance on this track. What the song lacks to me, is space. There is almost too much going on in this track. However, this is not a bad track, quite the opposite, the track is a good one, with a wonderful vocal from Adams, a good saxophone solo and some great backing vocals.

The tempo decreases on the next track, You’ve Got to Give Me Room. At the beginning on this track, Adams is only accompanied by a piano playing, and later on in the track a flugel horn played by Guy Barker. This is a track that suits her vocal style. I can imagine Adams singing a song like this back when she sang in cocktail bars. It has an atmospheric feel to the song, and the arrangement is perfect. Unlike the last track, the arrangement here has a minimal feel, which suits the song.

The next track I’ve Got To Sing My Song, sees Adams produce one of her best performances on this album. There is a gospel feel and sound to the song. The lyrics also have a spiritual theme to them. Adams uses her full vocal range here, and you will go a long way before you come across a better vocal performance. The only way to describe this song is joyous. I never tire of hearing this song, and it has the ability to lift your mood, it makes you feel better that you did before you heard it. This is, by a long way, the standout track on Circle of One.

On I’ve Got A Right the song starts with a quicker tempo, and features a great performance from Adams and her band. This track has a real jazzy feel and sound on it. The band on this track show what they are capable of, and really let loose. Adams was fortunate that on this album, that she had a great group of musicians. The piano, played by Adams and the drums played by John Cushon are ably backed by a fantastic brass section. However, credit must go to Phil Todd for his fabulous saxophone solo on this track. It really is one of the highlights of the song. 

The next track Will We Ever Learn sees the tempo drop again. However, this is another lovely track. Again, Adams sings this song with passion and feeling. She goes on to demonstrate her considerable vocal talents, producing another fantastic performance. On this track, the style changes again, this track is much more up-tempo and has a brighter and more positive feel to it. Her band, once again get a chance to demonstrate what they are capable of, and produce another top-class performance. 

Everything Must Change sees Adams change style again. This time, she sings the song slowly and accompanies herself on piano. What this does is add to the impact of the song. This is a powerful song, with poignant lyrics, that Adams sings with real feeling. The arrangement on this song is just right, and Guy Barker’s flugel horn  solo has the effect of taking this song to another level. The drums, bass and ting, are used sparingly, and this is the best arrangement on the album. 

The final song on Circle of One is Don’t Look Too Closely. Here, the track has a jazzy feel, and this demonstrates Adams’ talent as a vocalist. Throughout the album she sung in various styles from gospel to soul and jazz. On this track Adams sounds a bit like Dionne Warwick in certain parts of the song. This is a good track, which allows Adams to show that she is capable of handling different types and styles of songs.  

There is also a bonus track on this album. It is a remix of Circle of One. It is a good remix of the song. However, I prefer the original, as it is such a well sung and powerful song. Circle of One does not need the bells and whistles the remix features, although it is always interesting to hear what a remixer will do to  a song.

Having spent some time listening to this album, I am struck by the sheer quality of the whole album. Every song is good, there is not one bad song on the album. Throughout the album, Adams’ vocal performances are stunning, and she is very fortunate to have a top quality backing band playing on this album. It is a very mature album, especially since this was her debut for a major label. The thing that surprises me, is that Oleta Adams did not go on to have a much more successful career. By all rights and purposes, Adams’ career should have taken off. Yes, her follow up album Evolution had reasonable chart success, but after that, her career went nowhere. That is a tragedy, especially when you see people with a fraction of Adams’, have careers that are long and successful. However, whatever the reasons for Oleta Adams career stalling, she is not the first, and sadly will not last person, that this will happen to. We are fortunate that she recorded such a good album as Circle of One, and for that we must be grateful. For anyone interested in exploring her music further,  I would recommend her follow up to Circle of One, Evolution, and also The Very Best of Oleta Adams, which will give you an overview of her career up until its release in 1996. I am sure if you buy these albums, you will enjoy the music on them, and will be like me, left wondering why she never enjoyed the success her talent deserved. Standout Tracks: Rhythm of Life, Get Here, I’ve Got To Sing My Song and Everything  Must Change.


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