Monday, March 22, 2010

Catherine Russell Delves Into the Heart of Classic Songs

It has been about two years since Catherine Russell delighted us with the marvelous disc Sentimental Streak on World Village. The daughter of legendary bandleader, Luis Russell and bassist Carline Ray, Russell has another excellent release “Inside This Heart of Mine,” also on World Village. This present session is produced by Paul Kahn with Catherine as Executive Producer. Like the prior disc, it is rooted primarily in swing tunes from the twenties to the sixties. . The core of the backing band is the trio of Mark Shane on piano, Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo and Lee Hudson on bass (although Neal Miner is on two selections). Brian Grice and Rob Garcia play drums where heard, while Howard Johnson adds brass bass (tuba) to two selections and Sara Caswell adds violin to a different pair of performances.

In my prior review, I noted that Ms. Russell evokes a variety of influences including Alberta Hunter, Billy Holiday, Ivie Anderson, and Nellie Lutcher. I find Holiday an apt comparison as she phrases the lyric. She does not come across as a Holiday sound-alike in the style of a Madeline Peyroux,. Rather her delivery and timing is reminiscent of Lady Day, and the backing is complimentary and sympathetic. The selection of songs is immaculate starting with the title track, a chestnut that Fats Waller and J.C. Johnson authored with lovely horn solos and Munisteri’s graceful rhythmic riffing in the backing with her expressing the sadness of love being a stranger ‘inside this heart of mine.’ “All the Cats Join In,” is a spicy swinger taken from a Peggy Lee recording with growling trumpet from Jon-Erik Kellso and a strong tenor solo from Dan Black. Andy Razaf is among those who wrote the swinging “We the People,” that Fats Waller first recorded, with lyrics that we don’t care about taxation as long as legislators give us syncopation. Shane takes a lively stride-inspired solo with Munisteri adding short riffed guitar break. “Troubled Waters,” penned by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston, comes from a 1934 Duke Ellington recording that featured Ivy Anderson. Kellso’s growling trumpet (echoes of Cootie Williams) underscores Russell’s lamentation here.

A 1969 Maxine Sullivan recording is the source for the delightful rendition of “As Long As I Live,” with another nice piano solo. Paul Kahn’s “November” with backing including accordion and violin has a gypsy jazz ambience as Russell sings about the change of seasons with it getting cold outside while her lover is not by her side. Sara Carswell’s violin and Munisteri’s banjo also lends a gypsy jazz tinge to Rachelle Garniez’s original “Just Because Your Can.” Joya Sherrill handled the vocal in 1945 when the Duke Ellington Orchestra recorded Duke’s “Long Strong and Consecutive,” and the intimate setting here has Russell sound like a female Nat Cole as she sings about wanting long strong and consecutive kisses as “no short snort will suit” her. Perhaps the most fetching, dreamy and romantic number on this album is the rendition of “Close Your Eyes,” with a lovely guitar solo. Its followed by a nice reworking of Wyonnie Harris’ jump blues, “Quiet Whiskey,” with its classic lines

“Whiskey on the shelf,
You were so quiet there by yourself
Things were fine ‘till they took you down
Opened You Up and Passed Your Around.”

Russell and her group take this jump blues recording and transform it into some hep jive.

Russell then directs her interpretative talents to Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” with backing from Munisteri’s banjo, Rob Garcia’s drums and Howard Johnson’s tuba. To this trio, horns are added for “Slow as Molasses, originally recorded in 1929 by the Jungle Town Stompers. On the original recording, her father Luis played piano and celeste. Lyrics were added by Rachelle Garniez. which evoke the jazz age. The disc closes with a spirited rendition of one of the most famous of jazz recordings, Lil Hardin Armstrong’s sassy,“Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.”

Catherine Russell continues to mine lesser known songs from decades past and revive them in a lively fashion that avoids being campy. Her vocals are a model that many singing jazz and blues would do well top listen to and learn from how she delivers her songs as well as marvel from the sensitive and sympathetic support she receives. Like her prior recordings, “Inside This Heart of Mine,” is a recording to treasure.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received a review copy from the record company.

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