Julie Kelly – “Happy To Be”

A good album cover adds curb appeal to an artist’s work. A pleasant looking cover encourages one to pick up the product, and give it a first look. And if there’s a first look, that’s a good invitation to listen. Julie Kelly’s cover made me want to listen. Glad I did.


Julie Kelly - Happy to BeJulie Kelly – Happy To Be
(Jazzed Media)
Released – September 9, 2014

Laid back and quintessentially West Coast, this is a set of mostly lesser-known tunes from some pretty well-known tunesmiths, including some of my favorites – like Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough. And one that made me nervous as I pushed the disc into the machine. More on that in a minute.

This is an eighth album for Julie Kelly. It serves as my introduction to her work. It’s a lean-back music experience, akin to a Sunday cruise with the top down. The atmosphere is one of a bunch of pros having fun. The band isn’t backing her – she’s just one of them. But clearly – the one with her name on the cover. Gently swinging, voice polished to a fine sheen, working every emotion out of the lyrics, Ms. Kelly has that ability to make it sound like she’s not working hard at all. And frankly, I don’t think she is.  I think it’s just that easy for her.  But then, the best always make it look that way.

Julie Kelly - Photo by Mikel HealyThe song that worried me – sax guy Jim Tomlinson’s song he wrote for his wife, vocalist Stacey Kent, is “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again,” with lyrics by Kazuo Ishiguro.  It’s one of my favorites. “Too new to be covered,” I fretted. No need. The arrangement by pianist/vocalist John Proulx also features him has a duet partner with Ms. Kelly, and that adds an element that takes it out of a straight comparison, and makes it one of my new favorites.

She’s also taken Jobim’s “Corcorvado” to a new level with a new arrangement (by Otmaro Ruiz), and a chance to show off her own residency in Brazil earlier in her career.  “(Ruiz’s) arrangement illuminates the lyric brilliantly,” she writes. She’s also clearly having a lot of fun with Mr. Dorough’s witty “You’re The Dangerous Type,” and Mr. Frishberg’s “Our Love Rolls On.”

That backing band – Bill Cunliffe is on piano, Anthony Wilson on guitar, Tom Warrington on bass, Joe LaBarbera on drums – and a whole brass section on a couple of tracks, including Bob Sheppard, Clay Jenkins, Ron Stout and Bob McChesney.

And one of the finest sets of album art I’ve seen in a while. Photography by Mikel Healey; graphic design by Karin Elsener.

An outstanding work of art that’s as good as the cover promises. Very highly recommended.

62nd LogoPlaylist adds at 62nd Street – “Corcorvado,” along with “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again.”

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American country artists have always done well in the UK, where their music finds its way into the pop stream with ease.  Suzy Bogguss, a name from Nashville in the 80s, just came off what looked like a very successful UK tour.  Maybe it’s that I’m paying closer attention, but I’m also hearing more of what sounds like country music coming from the UK. I mentioned Ward Thomas a few weeks ago, and another that found its way to the mailbox recently is a group called Red Sky July. Ally Mcerlaine on guitar, with vocalists Shelly Poole and Charity Hair. Their second album, “Shadowbirds,” hits in the US later this month.

You don’t have to like country music. You only have to like music.  Enjoy.

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Lissy Walker – Wonderland

Lissy Walker - Wonderland CoverLissy Walker – Wonderland
Released – September 23, 2014

As intimate as a whisper in your ear, Lissy Walker’s “Wonderland” is a sweetly swinging charmer, delivering on the early 20th century mood the publicicist’s pen promises.

Admittedly a muddler of genres, Ms. Walker manages to sound country one moment, modern alt-something the next. But hard to put into a box also means unique, right down to the choice of tunes on this disc – from 1918’s melancholy “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” to 1970s folk-rock “I Wish I Was A Fool For You,” written by Richard Thompson, a restrained arrangement that fits the lyric much better than the over-produced version Sandy Denny delivered in 1977.

Alternately, there’s nothing at all restrained about Ms. Walker’s cover of Billie Holiday’s “Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be?),” which reveals Ms. Walker’s theatrical background through a display of longing that could leave you wanting a cigarette when it’s over.

Lissy Walker - Photo by Anne HamerskyThat’s one of my favorites from this set – along with “Isn’t It Romantic?” the Rodgers and Hart classic, once called “…the perfect song,” which opens with just the backing of Scott Nygaard on guitar, and then builds with strings to a bigger finish.  Backing musicians are all first rate – in addition to Mr. Nygaard, Jon Evans on bass, Steven Bernstein on trumpet and John R. Burr on piano.

They’re joined by guest artists Carla Kihlstedt on violin and Ben Goldberg on clarinet.  At times, as good as they all are, the recording mix can nearly overpower Ms. Walker’s delicate voice.  I would have turned ‘em down a little.

But that’s a small quibble with this hand-crafted work of art, a fine addition to any collection of jazz vocalists, and is very highly recommended.

62nd LogoAdded to the playlist at 62ndStreet.com – both “Isn’t It Romantic,” and “Lover Man.”

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Last year, I raved about Fawn Fritzen, the Canadian singer whose debut album, “Bedroom Voice,” had me swooning.  She’s now produced a video of one of the best tracks from that collection – the original “I’m A Fool For You.”  Enjoy.

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Susan Andrea Warmington – Jazzmaican

In a world overloaded with female vocalists, there’s a need for what the marketers call differentiation, or “…the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market.”


Susan Andrea Warmington - JazzmaicanSusan Andrea Warmington – Jazzmaican
Released – June 30, 2014

It’s not likely you’ll mistake Susan Andrea Warmington for anyone else currently working. The Jamaican-born Houstonian debuts with a light and sassy set evocative of Blossom Dearie.

The set opens strong with “He’s A Tramp,” that Peggy Lee tune that’s been covered too many times – yet Ms. Warmington heats it up nicely. Ernest Ranglin – attributed by some as creating the rhythmic style that defined early ska recordings – sits in on another Peggy Lee classic, “I Don’t Know Enough About You,”

Susan Andrea WarmingtonA pair of ballads, including “How Could I Live,” a signature tune from the “Crown Prince of Reggae,” Dennis Brown, is also on the set list. But it’s the uptempo pieces that shine brightest for me – Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'” is the third gem from this short set.

Recorded in Jamaica with a variety of session players – including Maurice Gordon on Guitar and Desi Jones on Drums, well worth a fiver to add some Jamaican jazz to your collection.

I’ll look forward to what’s next.  This disc is highly recommended.

62nd LogoAdded to the playlist at 62nd Street – “He’s A Tramp,” along with “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin'”

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Laurie Antonioli – Songs Of Shadow, Songs Of Light

Laurie Antonioli - Songs Of Shadow, Songs Of LightLaurie Antonioli – Songs Of Shadow,
Songs Of Light (Origin)
Released – August 19, 2014

Subtitled “The Music of Joni Mitchell,” right out of the box, you know it’s going to be a little bit of a tightrope act. It’s not like “The Music of Cole Porter,” or “Johnny Mercer;” songs that have been done a bazillion times, and no one (in my demographic, anyway) can remember exactly who did the original.

On these, there’s no doubt. Joni Mitchell did the original. And mostly (in my demographic, anyway), we remember how the originals sounded, and they sounded pretty damn good.

So, back to that out of the box experience: that little voice inside is saying, “Go ahead, Laurie Antonioli. Impress me with how you’ve messed with one of the greats.” It’s hard not to make the comparision. Ms. Mitchell’s lyrics were so written by her and for her; and that unique way she was able to trip through lyrics to make verses scan.

Truth is, Ms. Antonioli messes with Joni Mitchell in the very best way, mostly by sticking to the tunes that you’ve heard before, but weren’t played to death on the radio, at least not on top 40 radio. These are the ones that aren’t so burned in to the memory bank. With one big exception, only two tracks even “Bubbled Under” on Billboard’s “Hot 100″ for Ms. Mitchell: “California,” and “River,” both from 1971’s album, “Blue.”

And that one big exception is “Both Sides Now,” which was on 1969’s album, “Clouds.”  As familiar as it is – it didn’t chart for Ms. Mitchell, who wrote it – but it was a top-ten for Judy Collins, and covered countless times.

Laurie Antonioli“Each day, at the end of a session,” Ms. Antonioli says, pianist Matt Clark “…and I did one or two takes to see if we could get something…we wanted to find a different approach to it.”

What came out of that experimentation is a gem – a moving rendition that’s more powerful than the original – wistful, full of reminisces and maybe a little regret.

You can’t sing it that way if you’re a kid. “It’s where I started,” Ms. Antonioli says. “It’s both a personal and generational thing.”

It wouldn’t be polite to speculate on Ms. Antonioli’s generation.

But this generation approves. Highly recommended.

62nd LogoTracks added at 62ndStreet.com radio – “Both Sides Now,” and the opener, “People’s Parties.”

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While we’re on the subject of generations, I want to go back and revisit some earlier comments about Rachael Price and “Lake Street Dive.” They’ve been all over TV in recent months. I caught them on “Letterman,” but then went looking, and found them on “Ellen.”

I raved about them here, and then a couple of weeks ago, a work colleague caught them at Washington’s 930 Club. She says they were great, and couldn’t get over how many young fellas were standing around the stage, calling out Ms. Price’s name.

Wasn’t it Janis Joplin who complained about the dearth of male groupies?

I digress. The point is – that the following week, my pal Vic Doucette (We won’t speculate about his age, either – except to say he’s not a young fella) was raving about Ms. Price as she and the band visited the Detroit area.

Vic and Rachael PriceAnd Vic brought back the picture, taken by his pal, Maggie McCabe.

Any group that can motivate the young fellas to stand around the stage, calling out the lead
singer’s name, and also have fans from Mr. Doucette’s generation (one with gray hair) is going places.

‘Nuff said.

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