I became aware of Catherine Russell when she appeared as a backing vocalist on the wonderful Marie Knight tribute to Reverend Gary Davis. She is the daughter of the legendary bandleader, Luis Russell, and bassist-vocalist Carline Ray, and has worked with Jimmy Vivino’s Little Big Band, Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Cyndi Lauper and others.
In the 90s, her mom was subbing on bass with Doc Cheatham so she came down and later regularly saw the late trumpeter and started singing with him and the spirit of his music lives in this, her marvelous new album.
This recording is produced by Larry Campbell, who also contributes guitar, violin and mandolin to this project that showcases Ms. Russell’s marvelous way with a song. And, there is a fine collection of songs presented here for Ms. Russell, including I’ve Got That Thing, which her father wrote and recorded (it was released as by King Oliver who was ill that day); Kitchen Man, a vaudeville blues cowritten by Andy Razaf that was a staple of so many singers of that time with its double entendre-filled lyrics; Hoagy Carmichael’s New Orleans; the Wilder-McGlohon South to a Warmer Place (with Rachelle Garniez’s accordion and
Campbell’s violin evoking a French bals-musette); Nellie Lutcher’s playful You Better Watch Yourself, Bub; Willie Dixon’s I Don’t Care Who Knows (originally done by Harold Burrage for Cobra); Garniez’s Broken Nose (again with her accordion) and the sultry Harburg-Gensler Thrill Me.
Russell evokes a variety of influences including Alberta Hunter, Billy Holiday, Ivie Anderson, and Nellie Lutcher throughout this disc. I find Holiday an apt comparison as she phrases the lyric. She does not come across as a Holiday sound-alike in the manner of a Madeline Peyroux, but rather her delivery and timing is reminiscent of Lady Day, and the backing is so complimentary and sympathetic.
Many tracks eschew drummer while several tracks have horns and strings, yet never overwhelm the vocals and the lyric and one can appreciate Campbell’s marvelous mandolin solo chorus on Broken Nose as simply one of the elements that make it such as splendid performance. The acoustic bent of the performances here lend this disc a flavor of the thirties and forties cabaret scene yet everything sounds so contemporary.
This is not a campy revival of such vintage tunes like Brian Seltzer’s Louis Prima pastiches. Instead it is a compelling modern take on such material that will certainly end up on a number of Best of 2008 lists.
She is appearing at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC on May 15 as part of the Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Festival