Sway Peñala: My Story

Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

swaypenala00American Idol alum kicks out solo offering years since his TV debut, but does his homework on classy urban R&B

American Idol has cooked up a number of potential artists over its long course on the air. Now with its gloom and doom looking more evident with each passing day, previous contestants are scurrying to put out their projects with the hope of reviving their spotlight of fame. You may not be all that familiar with Season 5 contestant, Jose “Sway” Peñala. He was sandwiched in between strong rivals like Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, Ace Young, Mandisa, Elliott Yamin and the eventual winner Taylor Hicks. Even with his elevated passion for cool urban R&B, an impressive all-falsetto run on Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons” and with his past experience recording with signed recording act 6th Day, Peñala was eliminated way too early in the competition. Still the Filipino singer from Southern California, hungry for one more shot at fame, remained true to his devotion of putting out his first solo record. He does so on My Story, a touching memoir comprised of chapters taken from a recent “Juliet” relationship that inspired him and also left him broken. Most of the record contain compositions penned by Peñala; most upbeat and refreshingly cool and others being reflections of his heart’s longing for romance. But it’s a record that all together works for Peñala’s work ethic. He snugly lays close to the urban swag of ‘90s R&B groups like 112, Jagged Edge and BLACKstreet and even tighter to the balladry of Joe and Brian McKnight. With the help of skillful producers like Derrick Allen (Tyrese, Wayman Tisdale), JP “The Beat Digga” Nebres (Roger Troutman, Kai), Roland Casiquin & Brian White (Black Eyed Peas), Peñala overcomes the big mistake that overtakes most AI alum debuts. Most producers tend to toss a zillion of ideas and designs at their clients, but Peñala does his best in steering My Story towards an album that makes him shine as an artist, rather than the behind-the-scenes producer. Not to say that the production isn’t exceptional, it is. It’s just that Peñala seems confident, highly certain of his musical mojo that he never feels as if he’s laying merciless at the feet of the producer.

The album opens with radio-ready locomotion on the hip-hop teaser “Lovely Lady;” showcasing his Charlie Wilson-esque harmonious pipes, and later settles into romantic bliss with tender ballads like the poetic “Someone Like You” and “What Do You Say;” the latter containing a joyous 6th Day reunion. “Smooth Route” stands out completely for its spicy sex appeal and its long reach into the esthetic of melodic slow jams. While much of the record’s ballads lean on the backs of steamy and sexy, without using the explicit lyrical nature of Trey Songz, he does offer up a good balance of pop-oriented numbers full of rich melody and Peñala’s ever-impressive flexing vocals. “Anything But Goodbye” stands out the strongest with its breezy instrumentation and heartfelt lyricism, while the bright midtempo swing of “Better to Never, ” “Out of Love” and “I’m a Wreck” provide the perfect interchanges from one mood to the next.

With fifteen tracks on board stretched across a full hour, there’s probably going to be a few gripes one will encounter along the way. Needless to say, My Story may be one of the most rewarding and well-balanced R&B efforts to come out of AI University. Most certainly some people will have a hard time trying to recall Peñala’s stint on one of TV’s biggest shows, but it doesn’t really matter in Peñala’s case. It’s usually better to forget those things which are behind when your future looks even brighter than your yesterday.



  • Release Date: 18 May 2010
  • Label: Thirty Seven
  • Producers: Derrick Allen, JP Nebres, Roland Casiquin, Brian White
  • Track Favs: What Do You Say, Smooth Route, Better to Never, Lovely Lady

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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