Catherine Russell, the daughter of the legendary Luis Russell and Carline Ray, has yet another collection of musical treats with her latest album, Strictly Romancin’ (World Village). It carries on in the vein of her well received Sentimental Streak and Inside This Heart Of Mine, with a similar collection of mostly long forgotten blues, ballads, love songs and swing from the twenties to today.
On this date, she is joined by guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Lee Hudson and drummer Mark McLean with Dan Block’s alto saxophone and clarinet. The tenor saxophone of Andy Farber is present on four tracks while Joe Barbato adds accordion to two selections. Vocally she remains as commanding as in her past efforts as her vocals are delivered soulfully yet with a clarity that many vocalists today would benefit from listening to her mix of clean diction and musicality.
She and her collaborators have such a way of uncovering lesser know gems from such well known composers and songwriters as Edgar Sampson, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams and Ivory Joe Hunter as well as bring a fresh touch to some very well known songs while Munisteri in particular adds some very neat guitar playing channeling at different times, Eddie Lang and Django Reinhardt as well Charlie Christian.
Certainly the yearning vocal of the swinging Edgar Sampson-Ken Harrison Under the Spell of the Blues, helps set the tone and then followed by the gypsy swing rendition of I’m In The Mood For Love, with Barbato’s accordion being stunning. If Ev’ntide is not a familiar Hoagy Carmichael song, Russell’s warm rendition should change that. The Ellington-Strayhorn I’m Checkin’ Out, Goodbye, has a lively backing anchored in part of Shane’s stride-base piano and John Allred’s gruff trombone and some nice alto sax fills from Block along with Jon-Erik Kellso’s bright horn arrangement. Then there is the hep lively jive of Mary Lou William’s tribute to Louis Armstrong, Satchel Mouth Baby, with Munisteri providing vocal harmony.
It is a joy to listen to Catherine Russell deliver Lil Green’s classic ballad blues In the Dark, with Shane taking a solo. No More is a choice uptown blues as she sings about not needing nor caring for her lover with the horns caressing her vocal. There is some more Left Bank Gypsy jazz flavor on Everything’s Been Done Before, with Barbato’s accordion and Munisteri’s deft single note acoustic guitar contribute to this romantic performance. It is followed by the yearning and pleading vocal on Ivory Joe Hunter’s Don’t Leave Me, with Shane evoking the late blues and country balladeer’s piano style while Munisteri perhaps takes his finest solo. Then there is a lively rendition of the early jazz classic Everybody Loves My Baby, that swings hard with some fine muted trumpet from Kellso and clarinet from Block that is more in the vein of Benny Goodman than Buster Bailey (who played on the original by Eva Taylor which had Louis Armstrong on cornet).
Russell’s mother, Carline Ray, adds her vocal to He’s All I Need, a gospel classic from Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight with Shane providing solid, idiomatic piano. This disc closes with the jaunty “Whatcha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Swing?” As long as Catherine Russell is around we don’t have to worry about that question, because we won’t be blue because she will keep us swinging. Strictly Romancin’ is another varied and marvelous recording by Catherine Russell. Those who have her prior albums likely have been waiting for more from her and will not be disappointed. Others will discover just how wonderful a performer she is.
I received my review copy from a publicist for this release. Here is Catherine doing the title track of Inside This Heart Of Mine.