Lucy Smith's life is singing…in both senses of that slippery little participular verb: she's devoted herself, no matter what else she may do, to jazz vocal renditions of timeless work and, because of that, her existence is a matter of vibrant appreciation for the many graces that have flowed her way, starting with her mother—hence the title Songs my Mama would Like. Smith's voice is resonant and pure, and her grasp of what actually is going on in a song lets her shift each cut's dynamics and spirit to precisely what she hears within its structure. Thus she and her band bring new wrinkles to old standards, and the group itself, we find, is just as insightful as she.
For instance, when pianist Marcin Fahmy veneers the dirgey blues-folk classic Wayfaring Stranger with a set of ostinato'ed chords above the funereal pace, the clouds part and a gleaming sun smiles down on Smith's wistful anticipation of crossing to the other side of this vale of tears. And Junius Paul's an arresting bassist. As he clusters up in the opening cut, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You (a re-arrangenment of Beethoven's Joy - most properly Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring), the listener goes wide-eyed. This makes drummer Michael Caskey the true rhythm section, and he anchors the ensemble with a firm but gentle hand, precise to a fare-thee-well but cool and calmly confident.
The most arresting cut here, though, is Smith's rendition of House of the Rising Sun. I thought I'd never be able to hear that tune again after ten billion covers, but Lucy got it completely right like no one else yet has: the verses tell a deep story, and she invests it with a literary narrative dwelling deep within her. Where once I heard a set of blues chord changes and repeating stanzas of refrain, I now "read" the song like a story out of Faulkner, Steinbeck, or Fitzgerald. That's magical, y'all, and rare even for the innovations of the jazz mode itself because it reaches outside the playbook to shake hands with great brains in other fields……and Songs is a "book" I'm going to read again just as soon as I get this review off to the editor.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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