August 2008

Cassandra Wilson - Loverly
Blue Note Records 50999 5 07699 1 9
Format: LP
Released: 2008

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Sinatra had it. So did Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, and the late Eva Cassidy. "It" is the ability to take just about any song and sing it in such a way that it sounds personal -- like it's theirs and theirs alone. Cassandra Wilson also has "it." We got our first taste of what she was capable of with 1995’s Blue Moon Daughter. Now, on Loverly, we get to hear again the way Wilson has of taking songs identified with other singers and putting them under her spell. Listen to the depth and heartache she put into "St. James Infirmary," for example, and you'll forget its strong association with Louis Armstrong.

What sets Loverly apart from Wilson's earlier effort is growth -- and the wisdom that goes along with it. In that growing she has become a better interpreter of those great old standards that populate Loverly. It doesn’t hurt that she picked the best of the crop of Southern musicians to travel to her Mississippi hometown of Jackson. In a rented home, they recorded the album with a minimum of muss and fuss, including hiding the engineering booth so the musicians wouldn’t feel conscious of the "man behind the curtain."

Sonically, this LP is both pleasing and surprising. It's a major-label release, and the majors don’t have the most consistent track record when it comes to creating good-sounding LPs -- a format they tried so desperately to kill off not so long ago. But from the deep, tight, clean bass, with the solid feel of each whack of the bass drum, to the cleanliness of each brush stroke and cymbal crash on through the fullness of Wilson's voice, everything stands out. Plus there’s a sense of space that helps delineate each instrument in a realistic manner.

The only fly in the ointment is that because this is a 120-gram release, it’s more prone to warping than heavier LPs, so be careful who you buy it from, and take it back if you get a dud. When everything is right, the results sing for themselves.