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Catherine Russell - Strictly Romancin’

World Village / Harmonia Mundi s.a.

14 songs; 51:28 minutes; Library Quality

Styles: Smooth Vocal Jazz/ Classic Pop Standards, Swing

I need to immediately thank Catherine Russell and her producers for this wonderfully educating and entertaining album. Sadly, my knowledge of 1930s-40s-50s era artists is limited to mainly name recognition. In her fourth CD, we hear one of today’s best interpreters and performers, Catherine Russell, own each song as she sings with aplomb works by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, and more.

This CD is a first class production all the way making it most enjoyable. It’s good to have a library with music for any mood. Within six months, I have gone from one extreme to another: the raucous Drunk-a-billy of Whiteboy James to the silky smooth cognac sipping, romancing vocals of Catherine Russell and music from a top-flight roll of band mates and session players. Russell reassembled the team from her previous acclaimed CD, “Inside This Heart of Mine.” On board are producer Paul Kahn, musical director/arranger Matt Munisteri, and recording engineer Katherine Miller. A who’s who of New York’s finest add horns, accordion, violin, piano, bass, and drums.

A native New Yorker born to musical royalty, Catherine Russell is a contemporary Jazz and Blues vocalist singing in a warm, supple alto. Her father, the late Luis Russell, was a pioneering pianist/bandleader and was Louis Armstrong's long-time musical director. Her mother, Carline Ray, is a one time Mary Lou Williams bassist and an outstanding vocalist who holds degrees from both Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music. Catherine herself has headlined on three continents at festivals and sold-out venues like the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Among the classic pop oldies are Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh’s “I’m in the Mood for Love” and Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams’ “Everybody Loves My Baby.” Lesser known numbers include Carmichael’s “Ev’ntide” and Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “I’m Checkin’ Out, Goom’bye.”

While the smooth music is mainly focused elsewhere, there are a couple of Blues numbers by Ivory Joe Hunter and Lillian Green. Hunter’s “Don’t Leave Me” finds mid-tempo accompaniment for Russell’s poignant vocals. Matt Munisteri provides a nice guitar solo just over Mark Shane’s piano. Given a similar relaxed feel, Green’s “Romance in the Dark” simply invites canoodling and spooning.
For some fun at a snappier pace, check the conversation between Russell’s vocals and the horn of trombonist John Allred who literally makes that ’bone talk in “I’m Checkin’ Out, Goom’bye.” Mary Lou Williams’ “Satchel Mouth Baby” is a bouncy arrangement which has become a staple of her live performance repertoire.

Gospel fans are in for a real treat when Catherine’s 86-year-old mother Carline Ray joins Russell for a simple, yet splendid reading of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Sister Marie Knight’s “He’s All I Need” to only piano backing courtesy of Mark Shane.

A perfect set closer begging a hit of the replay button is a swing number popularized by Henry “Red” Allen “Whatcha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Swing?”. It joins another Swing-er “Wake Up and Live” made notable by Cab Calloway.

There is a time and place for everything, and when the time is right in the correct place, this CD can’t help but become the perfect listening background for intimate moments. Beyond that, it’s a rare treat to hear carefully selected classic songs recorded richly on modern equipment. Best of all are the pure, clear, and vulnerable vocals of Catherine Russell!

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL.

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