Melinda Doolittle's debut album, Coming Back to You, recalls the magic and luster of R&B's classic artists with the lush instrumentation and supple production style of today's pop-soul renaissance. Unveiling a timeless collection of songs tailored around a voice The New York Times has hailed as one of the most 'phenomenally gifted' in years, Coming Back To You's 13 songs reach back and propel you forward, sublimely blending old-school musical values with an on-the-block emotional currency that only Melinda Doolittle can deliver. Featuring production by Grammy-nominated producer Mike Mangini and recorded with top caliber musicians from the American musical epicenters of Nashville and New York City, Coming Back to You soars as a soul-baring tour de force with the singer transforming these lively soul, jazz, pop and R&B stylings into an evocative and affectionate treasure trove. Melinda knew how to 'bring it' from an early age. Humble but blessed with keen performing instincts, she recalls teachers telling her she had charisma even before she could actually fulfill the musical promise others had seen in her. "I was tone deaf all the way up until 7th grade," she remembers. "The chorus teacher would invite me to sing because I looked like I knew what I was doing. They'd tell me to stand in the middle and just mouth the words. 'Don't you dare sing out loud!'" For Melinda - who was influenced by her early love for Gospel music - it was all about "hanging in there," she says. "I loved music so much; I would pray that I got better." Her dedication was never in doubt. Raised in St. Louis, MO and Tulsa, OK, Melinda studied music at Belmont University in the storied music citadel of Nashville. She would eventually perfect her craft as a back-up singer for stars such as Michael McDonald, Aaron Neville, CeCe Winans and Gospel group Anointed, slowly building the necessary vocal confidence to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. "I watched these artists and they instilled in me what to do in front of a live audience and taught me so much about what it takes to be a singer. I look back on all of this as preparation for where I'm at now," she says. But nothing could have braced her for the wild roller coaster ride of "American Idol." Melinda became a household name as a finalist on the popular show's sixth season, garnering millions of votes every week. Plucked from obscurity on her very first audition, she stood out as something special right from the start. "I went with 3 other friends. I didn't even want to go," she says. "16,000 people showed up. I thought it was hopeless. We got there at 4:45 in the morning and didn't audition until 12 hours later." She and her 3 friends sang together. Only she was chosen. "I still to this day have no idea how that happened. I'm just very grateful." Her gratitude shines through on the exuberant Coming Back to You. Released on Hi Fi Recordings, Melinda's enthusiasm for the material was transformed by the singer's early love of R&B standards (her father was a drummer and let her bask in his vintage record collection). "I approached every session with this sense of joy and felt as if we were doing them live," says Melinda. Enjoying the creative environment fostered by the imprint's founder, John Hecker, incredibly, she laid down 9 songs in the first 5 days of recording. "So many of these songs evoke strong memories. Mike and I had a feel for every song. I also wanted to embellish them with a sense of where I'm at now. I wanted to capture that storytelling feel - over - for music I grew up on but also convey that sense of timelessness which inspired me to step up to the material in the first place." Melinda says she was also attracted to 'the drama of the songs' on Coming Back to You. "The songs are so powerful because they bring you back to a time when a singer wasn't afraid to inhabit the song emotionally," she says. "One of the things I love about the retro-soul movement is the then-and-now relationship between the eras. The songs create these universal moods that are layered with this very present kind of signature feel." Such invigorated reworkings can be found on the girl-group styled scorcher and first single, "It's Your Love." The song glistens with both a punchy immortality and a contemporary re-booting, with Melinda doubling up on background vocals as evocative Lenny Kravitz drummer Cindy Blackman added her up-to-the-minute textures to the skins. The singer's undeniable talent and versatility as a vocalist consistently shine through on the new CD, with the album's extraordinary range of songs ringing true in a myriad of musical crescendos; from the classic rhythms of "It's Your Love" and "Coming Back to You," to the stripped-down-funk-and-blues of two Robert Johnson classics, "Dust My Broom" and "Walkin' Blues," to a smoldering pair of Sammy Cahn penned ballads: the Doris Day 1956 heart-wrencher, "I'll Never Stop Loving You," and the Hall of Fame songwriter's meditative 1961 Sara Vaughn hit, "Wonder Why," which is perfectly rendered in Melinda's impeccably nuanced delivery. "I'm thrilled to be singing songs backed by live instruments that paint a picture for the listener," says Melinda. "I have always loved The Gladys Knights, the Tina Turners, the Sara Vaughns - singers who knew how to find the emotional heart of a song and tell a story. Singers who knew how to lay it in the pocket and bring it home." Imbued with a knack for searching out challenges that nurture her personal and musical growth, she cites the remake of Johnny Mathis' classic, "The Best of Everything," as one of the treasures on the new album that is particularly close to her heart. "Mike and I wanted to give all the songs a magical sort of currency," she says. "But we really brought an entirely new perspective to that one. I absolutely had a blast singing it and loved working with Mike to transform it into this bluesy ballad." She also cites "Wonder Why," the album's smoky closer. "I loved the 'feel' of that song. It's a great moment for me to find songs where I can be so intimate with the audience." Melinda's passion for detail isn't exclusively devoted to the recording side of her career. She has fostered numerous hands-on charitable endeavors, including raising money and awareness for an organization called Malaria No More, which has set a goal "for eradicating malaria in our lifetime." She has traveled to Africa with First Lady Laura Bush (and has been a welcome guest of the White House), and is involved in The Boys & Girls Club of America and a community driven children's organization called The League. The latter organization empowers students to organize projects directly in their own communities, combining service, learning, and friendly 'co-petition' to shine a light on school students and the many ways they can positively affect their own neighborhoods. "I love working with that organization because we go directly into the schools and try to inspire kids to learn about character building and what they can do to help nurture their own communities," she says. Steeped in her wondrous interpretive vocal powers, Coming Back to You is a torch-passing musical revelation worthy of the R&B immortals - Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner - with Melinda Doolittle emerging as our most authentic new ambassador of R&B.