Carmen McRae has always been one of my favourite singers. Technically, she couldn’t match the vocal gymnastics of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, but her timing and delivery were impeccable. Ballad Essentials is a fine compilation drawn from four albums Carmen recorded for Concord in the 80s Fine And Mellow - Live At Birdland West, Heat Wave, Two For The Road and You're Lookin' At Me. Ballad singing was always Carmen’s strong suit her behind-the-beat phrasing, cynical outlook and world-weary voice could put a fresh spin on the sappiest of love songs. She delivers such classics as These Foolish Things Remind Me of You, I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance, More Than You Know, It Will Have To Do (Until the Real Thing Comes Along) and If I Should Lose You without a trace of false sentimentality. Pianist George Shearing, Jack McDuff (Hammond B3), Cal Tjader (vibes) and Red Holloway (tenor) are a few of the musicians that provide support at various times. A good place to start for those unfamiliar with Carmen McRae. I would also highly recommend The Great American Songbook [live] (Atlantic). Classy stuff from a classy lady. (###)
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