Donna Byrne: Licensed to Thrill (2002)
Any recording titled Licensed to Thrill sets up a certain expectation. Unfortunately, the latest CD from the Boston-based vocalist rarely lives up to its promise. Byrne delivers a solid, competent set of pop and jazz standards, but her thin, reedy voice isn't particularly distinctive or compelling, much less thrilling. What sparkles are the nuanced, textured arrangements by bassist and husband Marshall Wood and the masterful performances by her sidemen. Scott Hamilton's soaring tenor sax underlines the light-hearted rhythms of "Nobody Else But Me", while Wood's subtle bass lends a sexy playfulness to "Talk To Me Baby". Byrne displays confident phrasing on up-tempo numbers like "Old Devil Moon" and "Agua de Beber". She swings comfortably, but doesn't bring anything particularly interesting or innovative to her selections. An exception is the Fats Domino golden oldie "I'm Walkin", in which Bucky Pizzarelli's divine guitar propels the rhythm section with a joyous drive lacking on the rest of the album (this arrangement has a contribution by pianist Tim Ray). Byrne's at her best on ballads; her lack of vocal color hinders her the least when she can shine as an interpreter. She is dry and evocative on "The Underdog", a bittersweet song by Dave Frishberg, and appropriately moody for a melancholy jazz take on "I Don't Care Much", a John Kander/Fred Ebb song cut from, then reinstated into, the Broadway musical Cabaret. Her soft, understated version of the war-horse "My Old Flame" is meticulously rendered with nearly perfect diction. While Byrne has an attractive tone and is rhythmically adept, she is too often upstaged by her own arrangements to make a mark for herself with this disc.
Track Listing: 1. You and the Night and the Music (Dietz/Schwartz) - 4:34 2. Nobody Else But Me (Hammerstein/Kern) - 3:52 3. My Old Flame (Coslow/Johnston) - 4:52 4. Agua de Beber (DeMoraes/Jobim) - 4:53 5. Talk to Me Baby (Dolan/Mercer) - 6:20 6. Reaching for the Moon (Berling) - 5:29 7. Shadowland (D'ambrosio/McKenna) - 4:48 8. Old Devil Moon (Berlin) - 3:51 9. The Underdog (Frishberg) - 5:37 10. I'll Always Be in Love With You (Green/Ruby/Stept) - 4:30 11. I Don't Care Much (Ebb/Kander) - 3:51 12. I'm Walkin' (Bartholomew/Domino) - 4:58 13. Remember My Child/Grow Tall My Son (Engvick & Wilder/McGlohon) - 4:40
Personnel: Scott Hamilton - Sax (Tenor) Bucky Pizzarelli - Guitar Tim Ray - Piano, Arranger Marshall Wood - Bass, Arranger, Associate Producer Jim Gwin - Drums Donna Byrne - Vocals