Singer Kate McGarry has made a beautiful album with Mercy Streets, though the music is not easily pigeonholed in any category of jazz. The largely acoustic album, with landscapes created by McGarry's vocals and guitar-based arrangements, follows in the genre-defying path cleared in recent years by Cassandra Wilson and Marvin Sewell's work together.
To be sure, some tracks on Mercy Streets are unmistakably jazz: McGarry's playful scatting on "But Not For Me against Sean Smith's walking bass and Kenny Wollesen's brushes dancing across the drums, for example. But like Wilson, McGarry also mixes in covers of rock and folk music, such as Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street and Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning. They're attractive, organic renditions, inhabiting a space closer to the originals than a more radical reworking of the music.
High points on the album include the sinuous and sensual tango of "Whatever Lola Wants, a moody, downtempo "How Deep Is the Ocean, and the dance-inducing Brazilian feel of "Aquelas Coisas Todas. On the brief instrumental "Snow Picnic, McGarry virtuosically doubles Keith Ganz' lead guitar, leaping all over the place, while on Björk's "Joga, Wollesen's unremitting, rapid hand drumming conveys the song's subtitle, "State of Emergency.
McGarry appears on Fred Hersch's recent Leaves of Grass and here the pianist returns the favor, appearing on the Björk cover and on his original "Stars, where he delivers an inventive and compelling solo. McGarry's original "Going In is a straight-ahead acoustic guitar pop song, with a catchy melody and fun lyrics. She's being lowered into love with a rope tied around her waist: "One tug/means I'm running out of air/Two tugs/means I've found something that's beating and I'm holding it with care . Mercy Streets offers an impressive variety of musical styles and arrangements, and above it all rides McGarry's passionate voice.
Track Listing: Chelsea Morning; Whatever Lola Wants; How Deep Is the Ocean; But Not for Me; Mercy Street; Joga (State of Emergency); Snow Picnic; Aquelas Coisas Todas; Stars; Trouble of the World; Going In; New Orleans
Personnel: Kate McGarry, vocals; Keith Ganz, guitars; Steve Cardenas, guitars; Sean Smith, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums and percussion; Fred Hersch, piano on tracks 6,9