In late 1971, after Diana Ross completed filming the Billie Holiday bio-pic Lady Sings the Blues
, Motown put her in the studio to record an album of jazz standards to coincide with the movie's release. The material was shelved after the producers decided to keep Ross on the pop-star track, which soon produced the #1 hit "Touch Me in the Morning."
This summer Motown is releasing that long-lost album, entitled Blue
. A welcome attempt to cash in on the recent standards successes of Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, Queen Latifah and others, it's a tastefully recorded piece of jazz-lite. Produced by Gil Askey, the album burbles with orchestral swells, but never to the point of overwhelming the material. Ross' voice is sugary-sweet throughout, and she favors succinct phrasing over straining melismaclarity of tone is her touchstone. Thankfully she makes no attempt to imitate Lady Day's delicate growl; she sticks to clear lines and rarely plays with the beat, letting the song do the work for her.
And these songs do plenty, with gems like "What A Difference A Day Makes," "But Beautiful," "Love Is Here To Stay" and "My Man." The formula is flawless, and while it never touches Holiday's emotional depths, it never descends into decorative kitsch, either. Risk-taking should be reserved for those who can pull it offand the professionalism on display here plays it safe with style and sincerity.
"Let's Do It is a prime example. Anchored by an acoustic guitar strum, murmuring strings and a muted trumpet, Ross' voice lightly bounces as it talks of those "goldfish in the privacy of bowls falling in love. She modulates her voice within a limited range, but each tweak adds wry humor, allowing the graceful turns of phrase an ideal setting to make their impact. These renditions don't bear much of a personal stamp, but they shimmer with life regardless. That's what a beautiful voice can do for you.
Personnel: Diana Ross: vocals; other musicians unspecified.