Carline Ray is 87, and the years have been exceptionally kind to her voice and talent, Vocal Sides a feast of oft swingin' takes on classics that youngsters and middle-agers are going to take lessons from. Interestingly, though, she chose to intro the CD with the kind of solemn gravid majesty that one would find only when looking back to individuals like Paul Robeson. It's a gripping opening that lets out onto a dancing continuation of the cut: Hammerstein & Romberg's When I Grow too Old to Dream. Ray repeats the feat again in Somewhere, this time reflective and wistful through the entire recitation. As would be expected, Our Father, an arrangement of The Lord's Prayer by Mary Lou Williams, follows in suit.
Abut half the disc is be-boppy, scatty, big-band natured within stripped down contexts. Land Beyond the River, a duet with Catherine Russell, is even kinda Andrews / Pointer Sisters-ish. Though she does not take up any instruments here, in early days, Carline played not only piano and sang, classically trained, but also taught herself guitar and bass. She was one of three African-American graduates from Julliard in 1946 and went on to play for Ruth Brown, Melba Liston, Carrie Smith, and others, not to mention work with the Sweethearts of Rhythm (and when you glance at the stunning snapshot of her from those days, whoo-eee!, the 'sweetheart' nomenclature makes itself quite quite clear), Mercer Ellington, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
The closing track, Lucille (husband Luis Russell's crooner, not Little Richard's screamer) reminds me of when I was a primary schooler watching Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk, and other TV showcases. Every time Pearl Bailey or Eartha Kitt or another black songstress came on, we white kids couldn't help but note how differently they sang. Later we'd learn about soul, but this was our first exposure, so when Aretha and Gladys came along later, we were ready. Ray is very much in that elder pre-Franklin/Knight framework, and listening to this disc brings back a wave of memories and sentiments. The older I get, the more I realize that even my lifetime can't encompass enough, so that releases like this open doors I almost forgot were there.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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