June 2008

Erin Bode - The Little Garden
Native Language Music NLM-0972-2
Format: CD
Released: 2008
Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Kelley Johnson - Home
Sapphire 7613
Format: CD
Released: 2008

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Elaine Lucia - Let’s Live Again
Sunflower Records 884501007191
Format: CD
Released: 2008

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

by Joseph Taylor

Kelley Johnson sings jazz with such effortless swing and with such an abundance of technique that it might be easy to miss how much feeling and interpretive skill she injects into her performances. She digs deep on the title track of her new disc, Home, turning in a blues performance of tremendous heart, conveying a sense of anguish and sadness at the plight of the homeless. She chooses unique tunes to exhibit her skills, including Abbey Lincoln’s "Should’ve Been" and "Living Room." She matches the latter with Lerner & Lowe’s "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly" for a beautiful display of her vocal and arranging talents. Johnson has surrounded herself with gifted musicians whose performances are as deeply felt as hers, and she gives them plenty of feature time on Home. Johnson can take a tune like "Moon River" and make you believe you’re hearing it for the first time.

On her third disc, Let’s Live Again, Elaine Lucia employs a quintet that includes vibraphonist Gerry Grosz. It is a highly enjoyable disc that takes George Shearing’s recordings with Nancy Wilson and other singers as a point of inspiration. Lucia has a clear, pure voice, and she avoids vocal histrionics, letting the songs tell the story. Let’s Live Again gains some of its freshness because it is composed of lesser-known tunes, including "Azure Te" and "All Dressed Up with a Broken Heart," but Lucia gives the one chestnut here, Bacharach and David’s "I’ll Never Fall In Love Again," a new coat of paint. Grosz, guitarist Randy Vincent, and pianist Jonathan Alford all provide solid, unobtrusive support and beautifully restrained soloing. My copy of the disc contained some distortion during a couple of tracks, brief enough to make me think it was a pressing anomaly.

Erin Bode is clearly a jazz singer by inclination and temperament, but she and Adam Maness, who accompanies her on keyboards and guitar, write smart sophisticated pop tunes that jazz purists probably wouldn’t sanction. That’s their loss, because The Little Garden, Bode’s third disc, is accessible, hummable, and subtly clever -- sort of Steely Dan without the cynicism. Actually, Becker and Fagen would be happy to have written this line (from "Chasing After You"): "Globally our footprint would be drastically reduced/If locally we decreased the proximity between me and you." Bode’s voice is both girlish and knowing, and her sharp version of Paul Simon’s "Born At the Right Time" amply demonstrates her interpretive skills. Her band is a constant source of delight on The Little Garden, and the sound is very good.