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
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