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August 2003

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Toni Lynn Washington
Been So Long
NorthernBlues Records

Toni Lynn WashingtonAfter three acclaimed prior releases on Tone-Cool Records, Toni Lynn Washington has moved to the young, Canadian-based NorthernBlues label. Bruce Bears (keyboardist / musical director / road manager) formed the new partnership and the new album, Been So Long, was produced by Duke Robillard. Toni states, "I was blown away when they told me he was going to be producing it. His studio is a work of art. I had a lot of fun performing with the different musicians that was on it."

Been So Long combines one classy lady with one classy band. In addition to Robillard (who also performs on a few tracks), other big-namers include: Gordon Beadle, Doug James (both on sax) and Dukeís rhythm section.

13 cover songs, primarily by famous blues women like Bessie Smith, Betty Everett and Ma Rainey, are on this 70- minute relaxed disc. You will experience smooth yet sassy vocals with an equally polished rhythm on "Donít Want Nobody." The horns make the song bop and provide an element of old school R&B. On "Itís Love Baby," Toniís gravel-like vocals contain as much sand as a bowl of New England clam chowder. Washington commands this classic song like a grand lady of the blues. Dukeís guitar solo is twangy and reverberating, which makes for a great moment. Kevin Belzís guitar is more abrasive than Dukeís, as heard on "Are You Happy Now?," which features a catchy hook by the horns.

"Itís Been A Long Time" is swinging and jumping and full of life. Toniís energy abounds and rubs off on the rest of the band, especially Bruce, who is all over his 88s. "Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday" is another time-honored tune. It contains a loving melody and loving words. The warm sax solo and Toni Lynnís emotionally-charged vocals will make the iciest heart melt.

Due to the deep, thick rhythm, "Three Can Play The Game" is ultra-slick. Bruceís electric piano depicts 1970s funk jazz fusion. The music of "I Donít Hurt Anymore" will transform you to a 1940s era ballroom dance-hall where the smoke is thick and the talk is cheap. Next, you are transported to an uptown, cigar and martini, jazz lounge on "Willow Weep For Me." The melody to "Guilty" sounds like a Sunday morning service at an evangelical service. There is plenty to stomp your feet and clap your hands to here.

Even though her career spans four decades and stretches from coast to coast, Toni isnít one to sing her own praises. About her new record she simply states, "I think the product sounds pretty good." More realistically, her singing, talking and jiving on the record is compelling evidence why Washington has received multiple Handy Award nominations. The tunes are not hard-edged and the vocal delivery does not cut like a sharp razor because they are not supposed to. Toniís songs are not your predictable blues tunes. Rather, they are full of soulful romanticism. The disc prominently showcases her convicted and authoritarian vocals.

If you arenít a fan of music that exhibits vocal power, this disc may not hold your attention. The songs on this disc were performed and recorded as in the glory days of R&B. This is life-enhancing music as performed by those who live life to its fullest.

For CDs, booking and information, contact: NorthernBlues Music, 225 Sterling Road, Unit 19, Toronto, ON Canada M6R 2B2 Tel (416) 536-4892 or (866) 540-0003 E-mail: info@northernblues.com Website: www.northernblues.com, Artist website: www.tonilynnwashington.com.

--- Tim Holek

After enjoying Toni Lynn Washington's three Tone Cool CDs that preceded this new release, Been So Long, on the Toronto based Northern Blues label, I looked forward to hearing this new release after its completion was announced, and I was pleased by the professional production, great song selection and of course Toni Lynn Washington's fine singing. Having seen her perform several times, I knew what to expect since she is comfortable performing jazz, soul or rhythm & blues. This release has a little of all three.

Produced in part by Duke Robillard, and with the great Sax Gordon on tenor sax the accompaniment is stellar. I mean if you made an album, wouldn't you want Duke Robillard playing guitar on it? Now on to the music.

The first track, "I Don't Want Nobody," is a Buddy Johnson song, and to quote Toni Lynn, "...This tune has a really positive message in the lyrics, loyalty and faithfulness. Back in the '50s when the song first came out my parents used to dance to it in our living room. That memory makes it fun to perform, and whoee....I love those horns..."

The second track, "It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day), is a trademark Ruth Brown song also from the '50s. I remember Earl Gaines doing a killer version of this. The Betty Everett song, "It's Been A Long Time," was first performed by Toni Lynn in the '70s. She wanted a rocker on this CD, something to be her "Proud Mary." The Bessie Smith "Backwater Blues" has never sounded better since Smith laid it down all those years ago. "Are You Happy Now" comes from the pen of the Cate Brothers, a mid-paced number with good lyrics.

For me, we now come to the real killer track of this CD, William Bell's "Every Day Will Be A Holiday," a soul track that just works. Toni Lynn did this song with the returning soldiers in mind. Earl King"s "Three Can Play The Game" is given a new treatment by Toni Lynn and this terrific band. "I Don't Hurt Anymore " was a hit for Dinah Washington (and Hank Snow) in 1954. "Willow Weep For Me" was included as a tribute to Nina Simone. Another killer track is the Faye Adams song "Guilty (Witness To The Crime)," which rocks with a gospel roll. Lavern Baker's "Saved" immediately came to mind. Great stuff. "Angel Eyes" is an old jazz standard that has been recorded by the likes of Jimmy Scott and Gloria Lynne.

The CD ends with the funky "Down In The Basement," a fine ending to what is by far her best outing to date.

If you enjoyed her other releases, you'll love this one. If you don't know her music, this is a great place to start.

--- Alan Shutro

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