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Bentley’s Bandstand: Johnny Adams, Kurt Elling, Lissa Hattersley

Posted By Karen Young On July 6, 2009 @ 11:14 pm In Arts & Culture,Featured,Music | No Comments

billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

 

 

 

 

Johnny AdamsThe Great Johnny Adams Jazz Album, Rounder Records

johnnyadams200The Crescent City’s hidden musical treasure, the man none other than Dr. John once called “the greatest soul singer out of New Orleans ever,” never quite got all the way over the top, but in these recordings collected from the past 25 years he at least found a devoted following that knew his voice was capable of moving mountains and saving souls. Adams began singing in the 1950s, and had several regional hits while earning his evocative nickname “the Tan Canary.” The dignified man wore it with pride, dressed immaculately whether he was taking the stage uptown at Dorothy’s Medallion Lounge on Orleans Avenue at two in the morning or sharing the bill downtown at the Saenger Theater on Canal Street with Al Green and Ray Charles. Johnny Adams always had class and a regal way of taking over a room, probably because he knew just how good he really was. His voice was dark and full of light at the same time. He could hit notes with a muscular ease, and then let out a blood-curdling scream just to make sure everyone knew what he felt. These recordings are a collection of the more jazz-oriented standards Adams recorded since 1984, and include chilling standards like “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Blue Gardenia” and “Angel Eyes.” Some of jazz’s finest players supply backing, including tenor saxes Alvin “Red” Tyler and Houston Person, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and pianist David Torkanowsky. What works so well is how Johnny Adams supplies such a street smart rhythm & blues feeling to these songs, bringing them to the level where anyone who has ever had a broken heart or love affair turned upside down immediately understands what he’s singing about. “I Cover the Waterfront” will convince you this man knows things we need to know, and the deliberate way he eases into the song will send shivers through anyone with a pulse. It is an exercise in evocative emotions, some we may not be hearing again anytime soon. The only thing to add would be Adams frequent response to any question posed: “Yeah you’re right.” So true.

Kurt EllingDedicated To You, Concord Records

elling200Certain jazz singers write their own rules. They don’t have to draw within the lines because their voices allow them to wander the universe fairly freely. Think of Billie Holiday. Jimmy Scott. Dinah Washington. Louis Armstrong. And then there’s Johnny Hartman. His voice is the sound of love. There is no other way to describe it. And the music Hartman made with John Coltrane was so potent it almost needed a permit to be sold. Kurt Elling, one of the great singers of our time, has zeroed in on the collaborations of Hartman and Coltrane to stunning effect. His voice goes to the place where the heart often hides, and Elling’s strong emotion helps the spirit be smoothed so it can continue on. Because, let’s face it, the best songs hurt the most. While happiness might cruise down the middle of the road, pain careens from side to side, jumping onto the sidewalk and zooming down into the ditch. This singer knows that, and is not afraid to go there and take us with him. Pianist-arranger Laurence Hobgood is the perfect partner in crime for this music. He allows the songs all the room they need to breathe, but also supports them with adventurous accompaniment. Saxophonist Ernie Watts uses his horn to throw gasoline on the fire, and deserves a special medal for making Dedicated To You an unforgettable experience. Some of the greatest songwriters of the modern era are represented here on “Autumn Serenade,” “All or Nothing at All,” “Nancy with the Laughing Face” and others, and listening to the sound of these modern masters in concert last January in New York it is hard not to be lost in the spirit. If you let it, time will stop while the soul is flooded with feeling. There is no other choice. Play “Say It (Over and Over Again)” and watch the world rise around you in joyous rapture. Over and over again.

Lissa Hattersley, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Kimbark Road Records

lissahattersly200Excavating the musical world these days is as exciting as ever. From the unlikeliest of places come gems of such brightness they can only be described as brilliant. Lissa Hattersley spent the swerving ‘70s in the Austin group Greezy Wheels, which got thrown in with the redneck rock set but were in actuality a psychedelic swing band with rural roots branching out all over the place. Hattersley was one of their spirited lead singers, and her sweet voice belied an earthy sense of gospel-fueled rhythm & blues. All these years later she has finally made a solo album, and what a kick it is. Her voice has a timeless quality to it, impossible to pigeonhole into a single style or time zone. What really comes across is her inner beauty, a sultry playfulness that makes it seem no matter what comes her way she’ll take it to the sunny side of the street. “Easy Reverie” is a striking original that could just as easily be written in the ‘30s, sung at a Café Society speakeasy in downtown New York, while “Moonstruck Love” is a soul song that lets Hattersley shine at her brightest. Some of the best musicians in Texas are on these sessions, and while there is an easeful joy in every song, the years of experience of all the players always feels like seasoned professionals are ably on the case. The singer grew up on the East Coast before heading for Texas, and the sense of sophistication running through the sound makes an intriguing case of yin and yang, uptown and back home, with Lissa Hattersley our gracious vocal host taking us to the other side. For a glimpse into a musical world that may be off the beaten path but promises a spirited journey, How I Spent My Summer Vacation could be the best travel tip you receive all season.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

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