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Is Brenda Earle Stokes primarily a vocalist, a composer, or a pianist? That's an unanswerable question if ever there was one. The marketplace typically forces artists to list their chief credential first, making it easier to categorize and pigeonhole them, but that's a problem for Stokes; she's equally talented in all three areas, as demonstrated throughout Right About Now.
This album marks Stokes' return to recording after a five year hiatus. During that time, her life, outlook, and approach to music evolved and settled into a new space. Marriage, the birth of a child, and the passage of time all managed to alter and deepen her perspective, but Stokes' longtime fans need not worry about things being too different. She still has that same attractive sound, with a gentle-yet-weighted voice and playing style, and she still uses the three-pronged approach to song presentation that worked on Songs For A New Day (Allsheneeds, 2009), delivering originals, a classic or two, and contemporary fare; she just does so with greater ease, comfort, and emotional range.
The album opens with a bluesy odd-metered original that's firm in conviction ("It's High Time"). That initial sign of strength is then washed away by the wistful "In September," a tale of a romance with a summer-long lifespan. Egberto Gismonti
's "Water Into Wine," featuring Stokes-penned lyrics, follows, proving to be the most affecting song on the program. A sense of longing, obsession and desire all come through during this mesmerizing and heart-wrenching number.
Stokes goes on to visit all sorts of other places across the nine tracks that follow. Her wordless vocals gleefully bound along during the sprightly, Brazilian-based "Baiao Em Minha Cabeca," snazzy swing surfaces in the form of Joe Jackson
's "Got The Time," and Stokes looks at the many faces of love on "(Meant) For You," "Everything I Love," and "Let My Love Open The Door." All of those pieces manage to make an impression, but "The Birthday Song," which finds her mulling over life as it exists at the age of thirty-three, is more emotionally potent than the rest.
The crew that Stokes works with seems tailor-made for her brand of music. Bassist Matt Aronoff
is a man for all moods. Together, this collection of musicians makes for a great team that helps Stokes document life as she knows it and sees it on Right About Now.
Track Listing: It's High Time; In September; Water Into Wine; The Letters On The Page; Baiao Em Minha Cabeca; (Meant) For You; Everything I Love; Right About Now; She Sings; The Birthday Song; Got The TIme; Let My Love Open The Door.
Personnel: Brenda Earle Stokes: piano, vocals, rhodes, triangle; Matt Aronoff: bass; Jordan Perlson: drums; Steve Cardenas: guitar; Joel Frahm: saxophone.