I really wish I could become more enthusiastic about this album. Sheena Davis is a very good singer, and her accompanists are about as solid as Gibraltar. But when it comes to vocalists I’m a tough sell, and in spite of her obvious assets — a well–trained voice, adequate range, admirable intonation — Davis somehow fails to impress, because — like many other young singers — she’s trying too hard to do so. In other words, I can hear her working at it, and I shouldn’t be able to, nor should you. Without making any comparisons, which would be patently unfair, one of the things I loved about, say, Frank Sinatra or Mel Torme (and still love about Rosie Clooney) is that one almost never hears them working to impress. They simply sing, and the emotion flows naturally from within some wellspring of life and experience. Perhaps their choice of material has something to do with that, but Davis has made some splendid choices on Smile,
not the least of which is the title selection itself, which she interprets in the breathily theatrical way she evidently fancies on ballads (such as “Travelin’ Light,” “Forever Autumn,” “The Very Thought of You” and, to some extent, Petula Clark’s hit, “My Guy”). Davis does write a good tune, having collaborated with bassist Robert Rickenberg on two of the album’s highlights, “Dancing Leaf” and “Dum de Dum Do” (which is much better than its name indicates). After singing / scatting through that one at breakneck speed, Davis reveals a keen sense of humor with the closing remark, “I’m not doing that one again.” Must have been a first take! The session opens in a charming groove with “It Might as Well Rain Until September,” which shows how talented her back–up crew is (stalwart support from Rickenberg, pianist Tom Cawley and drummer Pete Cater, topnotch solos by Cawley and Rickenberg). Guitarist Jim Mullen sits in on “Smile,” “Something Good,” “Three Little Words” and “Forever Autumn,” and raises the ante on every hand he’s dealt. Mullen is a consistently sharp improviser, as is Cawley. But this is a vocal album, and it is Davis who bears the lion’s share of responsibility for its success or lack thereof. While one listener remains essentially unmoved, his could well be a minority opinion. As we conceded at the outset, Davis is a very good singer, and her album may cause many less finicky music–lovers to smile quite often.
Contact:Jazzizit Records Ltd, 7 The Union Centre, Hillbottom Road, Sands, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP12 4HJ, United Kingdom. www.jazzizit.co.uk; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org (in the U.S., Jazzizit, P.O. Box 1598, Pittsboro, NC 27312).
Personnel: Sheena Davis, vocals; Tom Cawley, piano; Rob Rickenberg, bass; Pete Cater, drums. Special guest Jim Mullen, guitar.