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(MaxJazz 121 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/1/2006)
The commercial success of Norah Jones has inspired a raft of CD releases by jazz-influenced chanteuse style vocalists. In addition to the pop-oriented women singers of romantic songs, like k.d. lang and Madeleine Peyroux, it seems that every other jazz recording being released these days is by a female vocalist. While many are quite good, they do tend to work the same territory in terms of style and material covered.
This week, we have a fine album by a young jazz-tinged vocalist who, on her new CD has become a singer-songwriter, doing primarily original material, and in the process exploring a range of styles. Her name is Erin Bode, and her new CD is called Over and Over.
Erin Bode is the daughter of a Lutheran minister and grew up in the Minnesota Twin Cities area. During high school, she moved to St. Louis, and at around the same time, discovered the music of the big band era, such as Les Brown and his band, as well as big band singers like Rosemary Clooney, Blossom Dearie and others. In college, she studied music, as well as Italian and French, and graduated with a degree in both music and foreign languanges. She has remained in St. Louis as she set out on her musical career.
Her first album, Don't Take Your Time was, like many jazz vocal CDs, primarily a collection of standards, with one original song. It attracted the attention of critics for her appealing, almost disarming vocals with a kind of girlish quality and yet with great purity, perfect pitch and impressive phrasing.
For her new CD, Over and Over, the musical formula is turned around. There is only one jazz standard included, with eleven originals -- most co-written with her keyboard player Adam Maness -- along with two very original covers from the rock world, songs by Paul Simon and Simply Red. The preponderance of original material, and the musical style that is more the singer-songwriter than jazz, helps to set this CD apart. It is, I think, a more rewarding recording that not only highlights a charming voice, but also gives us worthwhile new songs, and creative, but understated arrangements.
The personnel is listed as the Erin Bode Band, also more in keeping with the rock world than jazz. In addition to pianist Adam Maness, the group also included bassist Syd Rodway, and drummer Chris Higginbottom. Guests include Josh Mease on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, and jazz saxophonist Seamus Blake. They form a sympathetic, intimate-sounding, mostly acoustic group who contribute much to the CD's appeal.
Over and Over begins with a song written by Maness, called Holiday, which combines the album's jazzy and laid-back rock facets, and highlights Ms. Bode's disarming vocals. <<>>
The title track Over and Over is much more in the singer-songwriter mode in its sound and style. The added cello is a nice touch for the somewhat melancholy lyrics. <<>>
The first of the covers is Paul Simon's Graceland, which is given a creative and rather jazzy arrangement. It gives the song distinctive new spin. <<>>
On the other hand, the original song Send Me Up a Sign is positively folky in sound. Ms. Bode's vocal seems naturally made for this kind of song. <<>>
Ms. Bode writes about her hometown in the track appropriately called St. Louis Song, which takes an unexpected turn toward country. The slow waltz is appropriate for the sad lyrics. <<>>
One of my favorite pieces on the album is June another original by Ms. Bode and Maness. Lyrically, the song has a kind of wistful mood, while the arrangement highlights the intimate sound of this CD. <<>> Seamus Blake makes an appearance on sax. <<>>
The one jazz standard on Over and Over is Alone Together, which though well-done, is not as memorable or appealing as the original songs. It also does not seem to fit in particularly well with the rest of the album. <<>>
The other cover song is Holding Back the Years by Mick Hucknall of the band Simply Red. Ms. Bode is accompanied only by Adam Maness playing an acoustic guitar, and the result is impressive. <<>>
Erin Bode's new CD Over and Over is rather like Jamie Cullum's recent CD Catching Tales, in that both are by young performers who started out as jazz singers doing standards, and then became the singer-songwriter on their newest release, and in the process seem to have found their niche. Erin Bode's charming vocals do seem more suited for the folkie than the jazz chanteuse, and the songs she writes with Adam Maness are a perfect match, allowing Ms. Bode and the band to explore influences from folk to soul to country. The result is a memorable album that for most people will be an impressive introduction to this talented Midwestern artist.
From a sonic standpoint, I'll give the CD close to an "A." Ms. Bode's vocals are nicely captured, there is good instrumental clarity, and the dynamic range is reasonable.
Recordings by female jazz vocalists seem have become a dime-a-dozen these days. Erin Bode has shown that by taking another direction, she can make an outstanding and original new CD, while still occasionally paying attention to her jazz roots.
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