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The Graham Album Review #1974

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Cheryl Deseree: Dreamy
by George Graham

(Independent Release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/6/2019)

The past few years have seen the appearance of quite a few chanteuses, women vocalists who go for a romantic, jazzy or otherwise retro and sultry style. Norah Jones was the main catalyst in the early 2000s, but preceding her were k.d. lang, and Rickie Jones, and contemporary to Norah Jones was Madeleine Peyroux, who continues to do great work. An interesting twist in recent years have been women vocalists who bring in a little country influence, drawing some inspiration from Patsy Cline. Among them are Solitaire Miles, and the vocalists in the bands Bourbon Express, and Le Percolateur.

This week, we have another notable chanteuse who has released a stylistically wide ranging album, Cheryl Deseree, whose new second recording is called Dreamy.

Cheryl Deseree is a California native, born in what her bio describes as a sleepy desert town. She sang quite quite a bit in growing up, in school choruses and whenever the opportunity presented itself. But it was not until 2012 that she began performing regularly, joining a folk-rock group in Baltimore called House & Home. She collaborated with the group’s leader Ben Douglas and formed a songwriting partnership, with her lyrics with his music.

While Douglas and Ms. Deseree went their separate ways musically, they both moved to Nashville in 2014, and Ms. Desiree became increasingly active as a backing vocalist and demo artist in Music City. Her new album represents a collaboration with quite a few people, both in songwriting, though many of the songs are solo compositions, but also as guest musicians, including Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, country artist Dale Watson, and the members of Riders in the Sky, plus quite a few musicians who are brought in for the wide-ranging arrangements on the album, from acoustic blues, to sultry Latin American sound, a song partly in Hawaiian, Django Reinhardt influenced jazz, and a good helping of Western Swing, along with to retro country and Western with steel guitars and fiddles. It’s a notably eclectic recording that works surprisingly well together. The musicians are first rate, and they know how the play whatever retro genre Ms. Deseree conjures in her songs. And her lyrics are frequently whimsical to go with the fun arrangements, many of which sound as if they came from the 1930s or 1940s, though the material is new and original.

Opening is a piece that rather typifies the mix of influences on the album Sitting Duck which combines Western Swing with the steel guitar and fiddle, plus swing era jazz with the clarinet and the horns. It’s a fun, catchy tune. <<>>

Ms. Deseree evokes 1950s country in Another Empty Bottle, which is in the classic broken heart drinking song mold. It has all the right ingredients for the genre. <<>>

From there, Ms. Deseree does a kind of tango, but with the country-style steel guitar, on the song Starstruck with typically romantic lyrics. <<>>

Continuing her eclectic musical nostalgia journey, is the song Rumor Mill which goes New Orleans Dixieland, also quite tastefully done by the gathered musicians. <<>>

There are two versions of the title song Dreamy, Too. The first is delivered as a country-influenced nostalgia piece. <<>>

Later in the album comes a more straight jazz version called Dreamy… After Hours, evoking a dim, smoky jazz club. <<>>

Reflecting another color of jazz swing is a track which I think is a highlight of the album, Half White Trash/Half Black Sheep, with its Django Reinhardt influence. <<>>

The track that features Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel is called Oooh-dah Dilly-Dah, with an appropriately swing-influenced arrangement, showing its influence from Duke Ellington and his C Jam Blues which finds its way into part of the song’s refrain. <<>>

There’s also an old-fashioned romantic waltz called Neglected Waltz which Ms. Deseree dedicates to her “workaholic husband.”

Dreamy, the new album by Cheryl Deseree is another in what is becoming a long line of contemporary chanteuse style vocalists evoking musical nostalgia, making music that was popular well before she was born. In Ms. Deseree’s case, the her new release is one of the more eclectic and stylistically wide-ranging albums in the genre, covering old-fashioned country, Western Swing, jazz, tango, ballads and a little blues. There’s a fairly large cast of musicians who are brought in for specific tracks, presumably to play styles they are known for. So the arrangements are first-rate, as is the playing. Ms. Deseree’s vocal style is tastefully understated. This potpourri could easily have turned into a kind of self-satire, or a mish-mash of nostalgia, but the combination of the original material and the clever arrangements that often add unexpected elements, give the album a sense of freshness and originality.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The largely acoustic instrumentation is recorded fairly cleanly, Ms. Deseree’s vocals have reasonably warm, intimate quality. Dynamic range is not quite at audiophile level, but there the recording allows some is some ebb and flow to the volume.

There are quite a few chanteuses on the music scene today, but few are as eclectic and downright fun as Cheryl Deseree on her new album Dreamy.

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