How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Singer/songwriter Shirley Eikhard puts it all together on her own. Her accompaniment comes about through multi-tracking: she plays all the instruments. A string section, lovely guitar melodies, programmed percussion, a versatile bass line, and intricately woven keyboard thoughts blend together in Eikhard’s songs. Stay Open represents a departure from her straight-ahead formula, and a wider jazz boundary that includes folk, R&B and pop.
“How Low Can You Go” and “Aren’t We Clever” feature a sparkling guest sextet accompanying the vocalist with fiery passion. Eikhard is at her best with this ensemble, opening up in a convincing manner to interpret her lyrics with genuine emotion. The session, which rests comfortably on its songwriting laurels, brings fresh ideas to the forum. “Jake’s Lament,” an instrumental number, places the sextet in the spotlight for a pleasurable romp through mainstream territory.
Eikhard’s smooth contralto voice enables her to interpret her songs with ease. Each one tells an interesting story which we can relate with at a moment’s notice. Most of her multi-tracked arrangements, however, venture into the smooth jazz arena with blasé feelings. Only when she features her chromatic harmonica on “Stay Open” and “Waltz for Tess” does Eikhard turn the tables on the business of multi-tracking. Both arrangements sear with power and intensity. While Stay Open appeals to a broader, pop culture audience, the album includes just enough from the jazz tradition to keep the flame alive.