Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth by Day – Lady Day Meets Nick Cave

Billie Holiday

Tribute albums are really hot again these days, see for example Autour de Nina (praised here), or Nina Revisited (not very positively reviewed here), focusing on Nina Simone.

Billie Holiday is another Jazz legend that gets her share of tribute albums (José James, Carmen McRae, even Tony Bennett, just to name a few).

I have to admit something here, as much as I admire Billie, I don’t listen to her very often, as her early albums where her voice was still fully developed are usually poorly recorded, and the late albums that have a decent sound quality show her beyond her peak.

Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson has always been a Jazz singer that was never afraid of getting close to pop music; actually, I’m not a universal fan of her because of that.

In any case, her last album, Another Country, I really liked (with the exception of the awkward O Sole Mio), so I was really looking forward to her new 2015 release.

Coming Forth By Day

Cassandra Wilson Coming Forth By Day 2015

Coming Forth by Day is, as mentioned above, a tribute album to Billie Holiday, and it was released very timely on Lady Day‘s 100th birthday.

The tracks include well-known standards like Don’t ExplainStrange Fruit, and You Go To My Head. However, you’ll be surprised when you hear them here how different they sound.

The key difference is the production. Nick Launey, better known for working with Nick Cave, is responsible for the arrangements. T-Bone Burnett, who ruined (to my ears) the Diana Krall album Glad Rag Doll, is limited to playing the guitar, so he doesn’t do too much damage.

In summary, you get Bille Holiday Meets Nick Cave, with Wilson’s absolutely unmistakable voice. Is it worth getting? Not across the board, but some tracks are good enough to justify the purchase. I’d personally pick Don’t Explain, You Go To My Head, and Strange Fruit for that honor. Ah, and Good Morning Heartache is a bit weird, but needs a special mention.

Unfortunately, unlike some earlier albums, this album isn’t particularly “audiophile”, as a bit overproduced and compressed. But in a way, that goes well with the overall ambiance.

So listen before you buy, but it is certainly worth checking out.

Overall rating (in spite of some annoying tracks): 4 stars

Currency of Man – Melody Gardot goes Soul – A Review

I’ve been a fan of Melody for quite a while now. Her story is touching (serious car accident, very long recovery, music as therapy), and her first three albums (Worrisome Heart, My One And Only Thrill, The Absence) were all very good. She’s also contributed a great track to Autour de Nina.

Currency Of Man (Legacy 2015)

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Generally, I’m not such a regular listener to vocal jazz. I appreciate the classics, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, but of the contemporary singers, many don’t touch me as much.  Even clearly exceptional artists such as Cecile McLorin Salvant I only listen to occasionally.

So again, what’s different about Melody to all the other contemporary Jazz singers (and there are many): The music is well produced and she writes good songs. Many others do as well. Her unique feature to me is really her voice: pure seduction. This voice is really special and easily recognizable whatever she does.

Obviously, I had to get her latest album, I even had it on pre-order. Just downloaded it when it officially came out this morning.

Probably not Jazz anymore – if it ever was

Now let me put a disclaimer first, or rather a question: is this new album actually Jazz? Well, if you take the definition of many record stores (remember those, they’ll probably soon go the way of video rental places), who insisted on putting Norah Jones (or anything else published on BlueNote or Verve) and sometimes even Katie Melua under Jazz, then probably yes, but this album has more elements of Soul than Jazz.

One thing that struck me about this album were the arrangements. This album contains strings. Usually, the only one who is able to pull off combining Jazz and strings, is Ella Fitzgerald again. But here, it is really tastefully done, not overly cheesy, e.g. on the very intense “If I Ever Recall Your Face“. In other songs, you get typical Soul/Motown elements like brass and background vocals. Again, those just blend in and support the music. Very well done.

Then on some songs, e.g Morning Sun, you initially think she’s entering Norah Jones territory. But no, soon you’ll realize, this really is a Soul album with even funky elements occasionally.

Very enjoyable

How does it all work out? Very very well. I’m a big fan of this album. There is only one song that stands out as slightly weaker compared to the rest of the album “Same To You“; all  the rest is truly enjoyable.

An outstanding next step for an artist who will have a great future. Check it out!

You’ll find some good vids including some “behind the scenes” here.

My rating: 4 stars

EDIT: Deluxe edition

It has just been flagged to me that I didn’t specify whether I reviewed the regular or the deluxe edition of the album. The comments above refer to the regular edition, I hadn’t even realized the existence of the Deluxe Edition until now.

The latter has not only 5 bonus tracks (to be fair, 2 of them are less than 1 min), including the outstanding “Burying My Troubles“, pretty much most of the regular songs appear to be different cuts/mixes to the regular edition. I’ll need to compare a bit more and will report back in the next days.

Autour de Nina – an outstanding Vocal Jazz complilation

Hommage albums are popular these days. Cassandra Wilson and José James just recently released their Billie Holiday inspired albums (see my review of Cassandra Wilson’s album here), but here we are dedicating an entire album to another Vocal Jazz legend: Nina Simone.

Autour de Nina cover

This album, while it was released on Verve, got significantly more press coverage in France then elsewhere. Even the website, and their Facebook page, is written in French. This is a pity, as this album is outstanding and would benefit from being better known globally.

This is a compilation including some relatively well known international celebrities, the most popular probably being Gregory Porter and Melody Gardot (who will release here new album tomorrow by the way). You may also have heard of ACT-label singer Youn Sun Nah.

Then we have some names that are probably more familiar to a French/European audience, including Camille, Lianne La Havas,Olivia Ruiz, and the Swiss rising singer songwriter Sophie Hunger (more about her certainly later in another post).

The quality of this album is outstanding throughout. Olivia Ruiz manages to put a new twist on the TV-commercial-abused “My Baby Just Cares For Me“, Gregory Porter is great in “Black is the Color (Of My True Love’s Hair)”, and Liane La Havas does a great “Baltimore“. The only weak spot to me is “Feeling Good”, which I (shame on me) prefer by our Great Cheesy Canadian, Michael Bublé, Ben L’Oncle Sam’s version just doesn’t make me feel as good (sorry for the bad pun).

I Put A Spell On You

However, let me flag my personal favorites: “Plain Gold Ring” by Youn Sun Nah (one of my favorite Nina Simone songs, from her famous debut), “Four Women” by Melody Gardot, but most of all, Sophie Hunger’s “I Put A Spell On You“, a version that for me personally even beats Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (please don’t stone me…).

Very highly recommended, 5 stars.