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The likable and talented Julie Kelly has been a fixture on the West Coast scene for many years. Thou Swell - Kelly Sings Christy is her sixth recording and is arguably her best. And, since she is a most consistent vocalist, that is high praise. Recording this tribute is a blue ribbon concept since her voice quality and approach are perfect for songs recorded by June Christy. Like the noted “Misty Miss Christy,” Kelly is from the so-called “cool school” but she is not locked into that style; she is also a warm vocalist able to stretch out on a swing tune.
Repertoire is one of Kelly’s many gifts. Since her first recording (1985, We’re on Our Way on the Pausa label) she has always chosen the very best of the noted standards and a few from the under-valued and deserving-more-attention bucket. On Kelly Sings Christy some of the selections, such as Christy’s signature song, the exceptional “Something Cool” and “Midnight Sun” are obvious but others, such as “Lonely House” or the very rare “Gone for the Day” are more unusual, interesting and inspired. Speaking of “Gone for the Day,” Kelly’s is, I believe, the only recording of this Bob Cooper-Bob-Russell song since Christy introduced it on her 1957 LP of same title. That is surprising because it is a very strong tune and Kelly’s version is memorable. Kurt Weill’s “Lonely House,” an aria from his opera Street Scene (with devastating lyrics by Langston Hughes), is also obscure but has been recorded by singers such as Abby Lincoln and Betty Carter. Kelly’s version is notable and I prefer it to either of those earlier renditions. She also does a fine version of the title song, the Rodgers and Hart standard, “Thou Swell” and a most loving rendition of Alec Wilder’s “It’s So Peaceful in the Country,” which is not quite a standard but should be. Other selections include Berlin’s “The Best Thing for You” and the lovely “There’s No You.” Just like Christy herself, each song selection is great, ranging from the well known to the more obscure.
Her accompanying musicians are not just good, they are nonpareil, and include such stalwarts as her longtime collaborator and friend, pianist/arranger Tom Garvin, tenorist Pete Christlieb, altoist Bill Perkins and trumpeter Stacy Rowles, all offering counterpoint and often underpinning the lonely, late night feeling of some of the songs. Interestingly, two alto flutes were included (listen to them on “Something Cool”), played by Tom Peterson and Rob Lockhart. Filling out the rhythm section is bassist, Dave Carpenter and drummer Steve Houghton. Studio player Brad Dutz provides some fine extra percussion. These folks do more than accompany, they are each equal partners on this superior CD
In this era when pop singers and cabaret singers are considered and discussed as jazz singers, it’s nice to hear a real jazz singer such as Julie Kelly. As noted DJ Jim Gosa once said “Julie’s intelligence and wit illuminate the material she chooses to interpret just as her vivacious personality illuminates the stage when she performs." Amen to that. Thou Swell - Kelly sings Christy is truly “something cool” and a perfect antidote to the heat of the summer. Highly recommended.
Track Listing: There's No You, Something Cool, It Might As Well Be Spring, Thou Swell, Lazy Afternoon, Gone For The Day, It's So Peaceful In The Country, It's A Most Unusual Day, Midnight Sun, The Best Thing For You, Lonely House.
Personnel: Julie Kelly, vocals, Tom Garvin, piano and arrangements, Dave Carpenter, bass, Steve Houghton, drums, Stacy Rowles, trumpet and flugelhorn, Bill Perkins, Pete Christlieb, Tom Peterson, Rob Lockhart, saxes, and Brad Dutz, percussion.