While Tierney Sutton's oeuvre is, essentially, a survey of American music in all of its glory, the shades of red, white and blue that pop up on American Road are far more vivid than any that have appeared in her work before. Sutton and her musical soul mates, who've been with her for nearly two decades, don't turn their backs on what they're known for here, but dig deeper to explore hymns, spirituals, folk songs and patriotic music in inimitable fashion.
While the program includes some numbers that might be considered quaint or antiquated when performed in common fashion, Sutton and company avoid this potential pitfall by sprucing up these songs with new and startling arrangements. A haunting "Wayfaring Stranger" is built atop a polished groove that emphasizes the low end of the sonic spectrum; a positively evil "It Ain't Necessarily So" sounds like it could have been meant for a Fiona Apple album; and alternating bars of 4/4 and 17/16 prove to be a neat little twist on "My Man's Gone Now."
Sutton's longstanding relationship with her band mates creates a level of trust, intimacy and comfort that's so often lacking elsewhere in the music world, and these qualities manifest themselves time and again. Sutton and pianist Christian Jacob take "Tenderly" to places it rarely goes, the singer making a spiritual connection with the bass on "Amazing Grace," as all parties involved seem intent on putting the music before themselves at every turn.
The other key ingredient in this mix is the manner in which the record was produced. While many jazz records are made with a "make it sound like a set in a club" attitude, that's not the case here. Sutton and her band have a keen understanding about the fact that production values can enhance the emotional impact and warmth surrounding a piece of music. If Daniel Lanois ever got into producing jazz records, they might sound like this.
This band has an alternative viewpoint on the possibilities inherent within the body of these songs, putting its own stamp on the music with interpretations that respect the source material without treating it as sacrosanct. With American Road, The Tierney Sutton Band has done for Americana what Cassandra Wilson did for pop music on her now-classic '90s albums.
Wayfaring Stranger; Oh Shenandoah/The Water Is Wide; On Broadway; Amazing Grace; It Ain't Necessarily So; Summertime; My Man's Gone Now; Tenderly; The Eagle And Me; Somewhere; Something's Coming/Cool; America The Beautiful.
Tierney Sutton: vocals; Christian Jacob: piano; Kevin Axt: electric bass, acoustic bass; Trey Henry: electric bass, acoustic bass; Ray Brinker: drums, percussion.
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