MUSIC TO MY EARS - TREY LORENZ: THE VISION BEHIND THE VOICE

BY TIMOTHY WHITE

He was a find at first sight, a star at first falsetto flight, and, while the world recognized the former backup singer's exceptional gifts the instant his pipes penetrated the troposphere on MTV's "Unplugged" last March, still nobody really knows Trey Lorenz. So Mariah Carey figures it's time we were all properly introduced.

"Everybody kept asking, "Who's the guy singing?" says Carey, swiveling giddily on a stool in the control room at Manhattan's Right Track Studios. She is describing the since oft-retelecast moment during the live "Unplugged" taping at Kaufman Astoria Studios when Lorenz cut loose on the "Jermaine part" of her cover of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There." Fact is, Lorenz's aerial larynx acrobatics at the bridge of the vintage R&B classic proved the most crowd-pleasing eruption of vocal yearning since Carey's own high-pitched exploits on her May 1990 "Vision of Love" debut.

"I really didn't want all the fun and interest behind him with the "I'll Be There" record to go to waste," Carey continues, nodding to the gangly, grinning Lorenz, who's seated opposite her, "so we just went at it for about three months, worked really hard and made this." She flicks the mixing console faders forward to near-maximum volume level, while the tape begins to roll for "Someone To Hold," the kickoff single (written by Carey, Lorenz, and Walter Afanasieff) from the forthcoming self-titled Epic album, "Trey Lorenz."

What spills from the mixing-room monitors is a supple soul soprano, feathery but vibrantly flexible, that's been framed in a buoyant vocal arrangement by Carey. Sailing across a glistening tide-pool of descants from Mariah, Will Downing, Audrey Wheeler, and Cindy Mizelle, Lorenz's dusky-to-dulcet vocal lead is a decisive devotional oath, seemingly capable of any sort of coloration, yet never flaunting its myriad strengths. On a ballad this straightforward, the danger would have been to descend into the labored yelps and modulations that veteran R&B helmsman Jerry Wexler has described as "over-souling." Happily, as with album's other top tracks ("Always In Love," "Photograph Of Mary," "Run Back To Me," "It Only Hurts When Its Love," and a swirly rendition of the Commodores' "Just to Be Close to You", principal producers Afanasieff and Carey kept Lorenz" arsenal of agilities in check, reserving the gymnastics for points of legitimate storytelling impact. Guest producer Keith Thomas, known for his work with Amy Grant ("Baby Baby") and Vanessa Williams ("Save The Best For Last"), followed a similar, tightly controlled course with "Run Back To Me," harnessing Lorenz"s lung power as if shaping a series of horn solos. Consequently, "Trey Lorenz" has the same blend of proficiency and providence that brought him to the attention of both Carey and MTV's viewership in the first place.

"I met Trey in February 1990," says Carey, "when I was working on my first album. I was recording a song called "There's Got To Be A Way," and one of the backup singers was friends with Trey and had brought him down to the studio for the session. I heard someone singing all the high, top notes with me and I'm like, "Who is that?" I turned around and it was Trey.

"So he kept singing backup for me, working on my "Emotions" album, and then we went to Europe for appearances. Then last summer I was doing a rehearsal for a showcase show at the Club Tatou (in New York) and I had him sing for a couple of people at the label, a cappella, just riffing and ad-libbing -- and that was it.

"But we also were involved in the preparation for "Unplugged," and people kept saying to do an oldie. Two nights before the actual show I decided on "I'll Be There" and said, "Trey, why don't you sing the male part?" We had no plans to release the show on record when we originally did it, so the decision to put the song out as a single was a total fluke. Eventually, we decided we should get going on his album, and we wrote two songs, the second being 'Always In Love.'"

"It all happened just like she said!" exclaims the genial Lorenz, whose hectic discourse can rival the vivacity of his best serenades. "I just happened to be in the room when Mariah was doing "There's Got To Be A Way," and, you know, when you're in the studio so long, you get bored. I was singing along with the guys, just going along with the song, and that's when she heard me. At that point, I was in my junior year at Farleigh Dickinson University, majoring in advertising, and I had been in a group that had quickly disbanded called" -- he whimpers -- "Squeak & the Deep -- but we were only together for a minute!"

Lorenz's sheepishness concerning the outfit that immediately preceded his association with Carey is mild compared to his embarrassment with his initial reaction to the news that "I'll Be There" would be released as a single. Problem was, he couldn't honestly recall how he'd sounded on the performance -- which he hadn't heard since the "Unplugged" session -- and he feared the worst. "I was like, "Whoa! Let me hear it again!" I mean, great goodness, I think we were singing really good that day, but I wasn't so sure about me." He smirks. "I was really relieved when I listened.

"When the song actually debuted at 13 in Billboard," he adds, "that's when I really lost it -- especially after growing up in a small town where you don't have anything else to do but watch the charts, check the record stores, and dream."

Most of Lorenz's professional reveries occurred in and around the old railroad town of Florence, S.C., where Trey grew up a proud "pine-bred" son of Lloyd Lorenz, the director of a local job-training program, and wife Bernice, a history teacher at local Wilson High. Both parents sang in church, as did Trey, and he learned to read music through a brief stretch of piano lessons. But by pure coincidence, the first song he can ever recall singing was the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." By eighth grade, he was winning talent shows with renditions of country pop like Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle's "You And I." He passed his freshman and sophomore years lending vocals and keyboards to the Players, a Top 40 band whose set list rambled from the Romantics to the Ramones.

The emergence of Trey Lorenz matches the equation of precocious talent rewarded with enthusiastic discovery that lifted Carey to international prominence. The two artists also share a fondness for a certain brand of material: "I really wanted to stick to melody," says Lorenz, "and not put out a track-oriented album so much as group songs that could hopefully stand the test of time."

Much of the warmth contained on "Trey Lorenz" may be derived from the undisguised glee Carey found in bestowing belief and support in the same measure it was once extended to her. Six tracks into her listening preview at Right Track Studios, Lorenz's mentor can hardly contain her pride with the fruits of her protege's labors."I'm trying not to talk too much and let the music speak for itself," she exults shyly, "but I think people are ready to hear him."

(c) BPI Communications, 1992 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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