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Cassandra Wilson: Closer To You: The Pop Side

Mark F. Turner By

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One of the eminent jazz singers of this time, Cassandra Wilson's deep timbre is as unmistakable as it is alluring. Her acumen as a musician, her voice an exquisite instrument and the way she interprets and arranges songs—uniquely filled with soul and emotion—would set her in the upper echelon of singers regardless of genre. From roots in Mississippi, where she began playing music at the age of five to her involvement in the advanced music theories of M-Base with saxophonist Steve Coleman and a growing body of diverse work, she continues to press onward.

Following her second Grammy-winning release, Loverly (Blue Note, 2008), a celebrated program of jazz standards, Wilson presents Closer To You: The Pop Side, a compilation of pop songs culled from previous Blue Note recordings. She makes the trans-American Songbook shine even brighter with contemporary favorites that include works from U2, Sting, Cyndi Lauper, Van Morrison, Glenn Campell, and even The Monkees.

The collection epitomizes Wilson's idiosyncratic style: elegant, sexy, mysterious, and well-informed of the intricacies of music, song, and lyrics. Her imprint is heard on a western scatting version of the Monkee's "Last Train to Clarksville," and some delta blues on "The Weight"—that ever rocking 1968 hit by The Band.

Once called the "reluctant diva," this set shows Wilson's altruistic nature, which has placed her among superb artists, such as Terri Lyne Carrington, Marvin Sewell, Cyro Baptista, and producer T-Bone Burnett, who are integral collaborators and not just background fillers for the vocalist. Together they take these popular songs into unusual locations that are earthy, visceral and filled with artistic liberties.

Highlights abound. A lovely version of Cyndi Lauper's 1980's smash "Time After Time," some Brazilian flair on Sting's ever thoughtful "Fragile" and a gorgeous redo of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey," where Wilson's soulful intonations are sublime. Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" is mesmeric with its canopy of acoustic guitar and the sounds of birds/insects likened to a warm summer's night, as the vocalist soothingly croons. The set closes with Glenn Campbell's popular "Wichita Lineman," proving that whether the song is jazz, rock, or country, no one can deliver it quite like Cassandra Wilson.

Track Listing: Love Is Blindness; Time After Time; Fragile; Closer to You; Last Train to Clarksville; The Weight; Tupelo Honey; Harvest Moon; I Can't Stand the Rain; Lay Lady Lay; Wichita Lineman.

Personnel: Cassandra Wilson: guitar, vocals; Chris Whitley: guitar; Lonnie Plaxico: bass, acoustic bass; Jim Keltner: drums; Reginald Veal: upright bass; Calvin "Fuzz" Jones: upright bass; Cyro Baptista: percussion; T Bone Burnett: guitar, vocals; Charles Burnham: violin; Lance Carter: drums; Keith Ciancia: piano, keyboards; Jeff Haynes: percussion; Brandon Ross: acoustic guitar, guitar, steel guitar; Marvin Sewell: acoustic guitar; Kevin Breit: banjo, bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, electric guitar, guitar (resonator); Cecilia Smith: marimbas; Perry Wilson: drums; Mark Peterson: bass, acoustic bass; Doug Wamble: acoustic guitar; Fabrizio Sotti: guitar; Xavyon Jamison:drums; Kevin Johnson: percussion.

Title: Closer To You: The Pop Side | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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