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The Graham Album Review #1820

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Halie Loren Butterfly Blue
by George Graham

(Justin Time Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/1/2015)

Since the commercial success over a decade ago of Norah Jones, there has been a continuing stream of new recordings in the style that I and many others call the chanteuse, somewhat jazz-influenced, vaguely romantic women singers who are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the energetic rockers, the twangy country women, or the utterly fake-sounding commercial pop singers who dominate the charts. The chanteuses exude cool with some subtlety and are not that far in sound from legitimate jazz singers. Of course, that does not mean that a versatile singer cannot span genres, and be the chanteuse one time and a folkie or a pop singer at another.

This week, we have a worthwhile new recording by an artist who can and has moved back and for the between straight-out jazz, the contemporary chanteuse and being a singer-songwriter. And are all included on her album. Her name is Halie Loren, and her new recording is called Butterfly Blue.

Thirty-year-old Halie Loren is from Eugene, Oregon and but spent her early years in Alaska, where she made her performing debut at age 10. She moved with her family to Oregon at age 13. There, she began to attract attention while still in her teens. She moved to Nashville at age 17 to pursue her music, but returned to Oregon to continue her education. She picked up various honors in songwriting along the way, including a John Lennon Songwriting competition, the Billboard songwriting contest, plus awards as a vocalist and performer. She released her debut album, consisting of mostly original music, in 2006. Her followup release They Ought to Write a Song, in 2008, featured more jazz standard material and attracted attention in Japan, where it was a best-selling vocal jazz record. Since then, most of her albums have been released in Japan first before the US. Her new release Butterfly Blue is her seventh studio album. It is a mix of three Loren originals, two from her band-members plus five Tin Pan Alley or jazz standards, including songs from George Gershwin and Cole Porter. The group accompanying her is a rather small jazz-influenced ensemble of varying size. Some of the tunes feature some horn arrangement that have more in common with old soul records than mainstream jazz. Ms. Loren is an appealing vocalist who handles the range of material with aplomb. Although her past recordings have feature her on piano, on this album, she concentrates on her vocals. Her group includes multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gallo who is heard on both guitar and keyboards. Mark Schneider is the main bassist, playing the jazzy acoustic bass. The main drummer is Brian West. There are some horns and strings who make appearances. The arrangements run from jazzy torch singer to soul-influenced. The treatment of the jazz standards ranges from rather straight to putting an interesting new spin on the songs.

The album opens with one of Ms. Loren’s originals, Yellow Bird, one of the less jazz-oriented tracks on the album. It has a happy-go-lucky sound, though the lyrics show a little bittersweet. It’s one of the more-produced-sounding tracks in terms of the added instrumentation and personnel, but it works well. <<>>

The first of the standard songs follows. I Wish You Love is a kind of classic torch song, which Ms. Loren sings in both English and French. <<>>

Blue is a song by the guitarist on the album Daniel Gallo. Ms. Loren’s treatment of it is both soulful and airy. <<>>

The other song, whose title is contained within the name of the album, is Butterfly. It also runs toward the soul influence, absorbing some of the Memphis sound at times. <<>>

As mentioned, Butterfly Blue includes some jazz standards, songs that have been recorded dozens of times by other vocalists, including classic jazz singers. Stormy Weather is one of those songs. Although Ms. Loren’s version is nicely done, the arrangement is not particularly original, so one can’t help of thinking of other jazz singers when listening to this track. <<>>

A bit more creative is Ms. Loren’s version of I’ve Got You Under My Skin, made famous by Frank Sinatra among others. The group gives it a slightly Latin-influenced sound with the percussion. Ms. Loren’s vocal is outstanding. <<>>

The best of the jazz standards on the album is Boulevard of Broken Dreams. The band gives it almost a slow rock beat while the arrangement can be a spacy in texture. But all of that is held together with Halie Loren’s fine vocal.

Probably the best of the original compositions is Danger in Loving You, done as a bluesy torch song one could imagine being heard in a dim smoky jazz dive. <<>>

Halie Loren’s new CD Butterfly Blue is another in what seems a long stream of chanteuse albums by jazz-influenced women singers. Ms. Loren has a fine voice and her performances on the album are outstanding. She is interesting in how she includes both original contemporary singer-songwriter material with a good helping of jazz standards. Most of the album’s bright spots are on the original songs, though she does do some interesting interpretations of standards. The band is a tasteful one and the arrangement are generally understated. Ms. Loren was the producer of her album and also recorded and mixed the CD, with the help of engineer Mark Trecler.

Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The vocals are nicely recorded with no unnecessary studio effects, and the mix is clean and had everything in the right proportions. But we’ll deduct the usual point for the volume compression used in the mastering in a typically misguided quest for more loudness.

If you are looking for an appealing jazz-influenced female singer-songwriter, there are a lot of outstanding chanteuses from which to choose on the music scene these days. Halie Loren’s new album underscores her place in the ranks among the best of them, and the variety on her new album provides extra appeal.

(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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