Monday, December 12, 2011

CD Review: Catherine Russell's "Strictly Romancin"

I just received an advance copy of Catherine Russell's soon to be released new CD, "Strictly Romancin".  Catherine has been singing and paying her Jazz dues for a long time backing artists like Carrie Smith, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein and Rosanne Cash. She finally released her 1st CD, "Cat" in 2006 to rave reviews. Her 2nd CD, Sentimental Streak", was released in 2008 and she won the prestigious German Record Critics' Award and a Hot Club of France Discovery Award. Catherine's 3rd CD, "Inside This Heart of Mine" reached #1 on JazzWeek, Roots Music Report and iTunes Jazz Charts.
"Strictly Romancin" Catherine's 4th CD was my first introduction to Catherine Russell and I was just knocked out by her voice, her style and her approach to lyrics. This CD contains a collection of great old jazz tunes out of the "Great American Songbook" that even avid Jazz lovers don't get to hear much these days. And why don't we hear these songs sung today? One reason is because they are simply not easy to sing. These songs require an emotional understanding of the story the lyric is telling and requires the singer to sing the story with style and clarity. I believe one needs to call upon past life experience to perform these songs in a way that can bring the listener in. Catherine brings a refreshing honesty and clarity to these songs. The first song on the CD is "Under the Spell of The Blues. The original was covered by Chick Webb/Ella Fitzgerald. When I first heard Catherine singing this song, I heard sounds that reminded me of Ella, Peggy Lee and Sinatra-like lyric stylizing. Please don't misunderstand, Catherine is not copying any of these mega performers, she is approaching her trade with her own great interpretation that makes her refreshingly unique.  The 4th cut on the CD is "Ev'ntide" and it has quickly become one of my personal favorites.  This tune was written by the great Hoagy Carmichael in 1936 and Louis Armstrong recorded it. Sadly the tune has rarely been recorded until now. Catherine has given us the gift of rediscovery. The 6th cut, "I'm Checkin Out Goom'bye" is an Ellington-Strayhorn song about breaking up and it includes some great trombone work from John Allred.
What puts this CD over the top, is the group that supports Catherine.  They are all perfect in their musical support and fit with Catherine like a hand going into a glove.  The producer of this CD was Paul Kahn and the recording engineer Katherine Miller and they both deserve praise for the smooth and effective way all parts of this CD were put together and mixed. The wonderful supporting cast of performers consists of Musical Director/Guitarist/banjoist/Arranger, Matt Munisteri, trumpet Jon-Erik Kellso, trombonist John Allred, Sax/clarinetist Dan Block, Saxophonist/arranger Andy Farber, accordion Joe Barbato and violin Aaron Weinstein, Piano Mark Shane. Bass Lee Hudson and drums Mark McClean. 
Catherine was born to musical royalty. Her dad, the late Luis Russell was a pioneering pianist/composer/bandleader and Louis Armstrong's long time side-kick.  Her mother, Carline Ray, is a bassist, guitarist, and vocalist who has performed with Mary Lou Williams and The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
The CD is scheduled to be released on February 14, 2012 and I strongly recommend it. 
For those readers in New York/New Jersey area, Catherine will be performing at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, NJ on New Year's Eve.  It is a great way to bring in the New Year with great sounds and great food!



  1. I was recently at Shanghai Jazz! Great place, but I missed her!!

    1. I agree it's a great place for food and jazz. I missed Catherine Russell also but her last CD has become one of my favorites! Thanks for the comment.


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