Lori Cullen’s light, breathy voice lies somewhere between a sultry whisper and a raspy bite. She sings tenderly but tenaciously, her voice tinted with sadness and a slight, wispy vibrato. Cullen doesn’t scat, but she has a way of presenting lyrics so that they subtly command the song, as if everything flows from her delivery.
Her debut album as a jazz singer, So Much, is a warm but bittersweet collection of songs about love, imagination, and adolescence, in other words—the ‘so much’ that life has to offer. The lead track, “The Best Is Yet To Come,” has an uplifting spirit that balances out the melancholy tracks on the album:
Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum
you came along and everything started to hum
still it’s a real good bet the best is yet to come.
“Little Things,” an ode to childhood wonderment, begins:
I believe in little things
that you can hardly see
Like honeycombs, spider webs, and starfish in the sea.
On “At 17,” Cullen reminisces about the pain of being pimply and unpopular as a teen:
Those of us with ravaged faces
lacking in the social graces
desperately remained at home
venting lovers on the phone
who called to say come dance with me
murmured vague obscenities
it isn’t all it seems
The Canadian-born singer makes herself right at home with the Ron Davis Trio, comprised of pianist Ron Davis, bassist Drew Birston, and drummer Mark Mariash. Special guest guitarists Kevin Barrett and Jesse Barksdale appear on one track each. Throughout the album the trio provides sensitive yet engaged accompaniment and sounds comfortable at all tempos.
So Much also includes “Everyday I Have the Blues,” on which Cullen begins softly and gradually lifts her spirits as the entire group slowly increases their dynamic level. Solid takes of the jazz standards “Cherokee” and a ballad version of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” reassure you that Cullen is indeed a jazz singer, despite the fact that her first recording, Garden Path, is in a folksy singer/songwriter vein. Jazz renditions of “Eleanor Rigby,” “If I Only Had A Brain,” from the Wizard of Oz, and “Two Sleepy People” are satisfying additions to the record.
Cullen’s fresh approach makes So Much a remarkable album and bodes well for her career as a jazz singer.
Personnel: Drew Birston - Bass, Ron Davis - Piano, Mark Mariash - Drums, Kevin Barrett - Guitar, Lori Cullen -