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January 2012

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Catherine Russell
Strictly Romancin'
World Village

Catherine Russell

I've listened to CDs from Catherine Russell before --- even gave good reviews to her two previous discs on World Village. I shouldn't be surprised by the quality of her music and the power of her jazzy, soulful voice, but I still wasn't prepared for how Ms. Russell's latest, Strictly Romancin', would bowl me over. Her music takes the listener back to the classic uptown blues and jazz of the of the first half of the 20th century, and it's a glorious trip.

Strictly Romancin' starts off with "Under the Spell of the Blues," a tune that demonstrates how well Russell's music straddles that fine line between jazz and blues; the listener is immediately transported back about 80 years to an era when people dressed up and tuxes and evening gowns for their night out on the town. She then turns to a very nice mellow version of the standard "I'm in the Mood for Love," the first number to allow guitarist Matt Munisteri to show off his tasteful jazz picking. This number is also given a unique sound with the addition of accordion from Joe Barbato.

Munisteri really gets to step to the forefront on the jump blues number "Wake Up and Live" with an incendiary guitar solo, while Mark Shane's piano accompaniment also stands out.

Russell has already convinced us that she's got a fine, fine singing voice by the time we hit the fifth cut of the album, "Romance in the Dark," a slow, late night blues from the Lillian Green songbook. But she takes it to another level here by giving a powerful gospel spirit to her voice. Shane also makes a key contribution to this number with a very good piano solo.

The mood changes completely on the next cut, the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn uptempo novelty song, "I'm Checkin' Out, Goom'bye." It's a pleasant romp that features nice interplay between Russell's voice and John Allred's "talking" trombone.

Munisteri is back on the Mary Lou Williams number, "Satchel Mouth Baby," as he not only picks some nice guitar riffs but also sings in tight unison with Russell. I'm impressed with everything Munisteri does on this album, and would like to hear more from him.

Russell's voice is strongest when she's singing the blues, and the Ivory Joe Hunter tune, "Don't Leave Me," is a good bluesy vehicle for her to show off her incredible range and power. The horn section takes the lead in introducing the jumpy "Everybody Loves My Baby," with Jon-Erik Kellso's muted trumpet playing sounding especially good.

Russell really takes it down to the riverside on Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "He's All I Need." Carline Ray joins in on accompanying vocals, and the pair sound beautiful together with incredible gospel harmony. Shane's piano playing also sounds right out of church. Truly inspirational!

Strictly Romancin' closes as Russell asks the musical question, "Whatcha Gonna Do When There Ain't No Swing?" As long as she's around, the lack of swing is not a big concern.

What a great album! In my review of Russell's previous release, I commented that my only complaint was that the recording sounded just a bit too pristine and would have benefited from a little rawer sound at times. I get the same feeling here but it's a very, very minor concern that is more the result of a personal taste than anything that mars the enjoyment of the music here. Don't miss your chance to bring a little Strictly Romancin' into your life.

--- Bill Mitchell


 

 

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