Mia Vermillion has a big vocal presence. She sings with the wild abandon of Janis Joplin controlled by the fluid precision of Bonnie Bramlett, the gusto of Big Mama Thornton
, and the blues foundation of Bessie Smith
. She infuses her singing with more humidity than Ma Rainey
and more sex than Lena Horne
Tacitly a blues singer, Vermillion's repertoire on Alone Together with the Blues is more diverse than the straight 12-bar variety. Joined by master slide guitarist Orville Johnson, Vermillion weaves a tapestry of folk music that extrapolates the similar attempts of Cassandra Wilson
to their logical pinnacle. Johnson provides an earthy, organic bottom to this collection of nine songs with his dobro, guitar, and mandolin, directly impacting Vermillion's approach to the songs.
On Lil Green's "In the Dark," Johnson flat-picks the guitar while Vermillion expounds on pheromones with the lights out. Vermillon's original, "Love's Lost and Found," couples Johnson on electric rhythm and dobro, supporting a languid Vermillion singing, "Come on boys, I'm one of those girls everybody knows, where my dreams are like paper, boy how I'm shuffled around..."
The recording turns on two obscure classic blues, Leroy Carr's "In The Evening," and "When I've Been Drinkin'" by Big Bill Broonzy. "In The Evening" was a staple of the Carr-Blackwell songbook in the 1930s, and 80 years later, Johnson and Vermillion freshen it up to the point it can be compared to its cousin composition, "St. Louis Blues." "When I've Been Drinkin'" hosts Johnson's best dobro playing of the disc as Vermillion, subdued, sings with the reticence of the inebriated.
Vermillion is a fresh and welcome arrival on the blues (and jazz) scene. The full depth of her talent has yet to be seen.
Personnel: Mia Vermillion: vocals; Orville Johnson: dobro, guitar, mandolin; Chuck Deardorf, Garey Shelton, Cary Black: bass; Ben Smith, Mark Ivester: drums and percussion; Hans Teuber: clarinet.