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Perhaps I'm missing something, but what's the point in showcasing a singer and recording her so abysmally that one must struggle to grasp the lyrics, thanks to the album's unremitting and irksome reverb? After listening to Devil May Care, the only thing I can say with any measure of assurance about New Zealander Erna Ferry is that she has a great smile, seems to have a nice mid-range voice with ample power, and sings on-key; beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.
Comparatively speaking, the Rodger Fox Big Band sounds terrific, as does guest pianist (and organist) Bill Cunliffe. Even so, the band is encumbered, as is Ferry, by the excessive "echo chamber effect that pervades Auckland's Avondale Studios, which often makes listening more a chore than a pleasure. I found this weakness especially displeasing, as I'm a big fan of Fox's sturdy ensemble.
Aside from being annoying, the exaggerated acoustics serve as a constant reminder that there is a microphone separating Ferry from her audience. To me, the best vocal albums are those in which the singer seems to be in the same room, crooning directly into my ear with no trace of electronic enhancement. That's definitely not the case here. Ferry is placed at a clear disadvantage, one that even her best efforts can't erase.
A pity, as the choice of material is sound and the charts, by Fox, Jeff Driskill, Mike Crotty, and the late Gordon Brisker, are first-rate. Likable solos, too, by Fox, Cunliffe, tenors Pete France and Cameron Allen, alto Godfrey de Grut, baritone Andrew Baker, and guitarist Neil Watson. But Ferry is the headliner, and the bloated acoustics do her no favors. Next time, let's pare the backup group down to a trio, okay?
Track Listing: Devil May Care; Be Cool; Iím Walkiní; Is You Is or Is You Ainít My Baby?; You Hit the Spot; The People That You Never Get to Love; Hallelujah I Love Him So; How Blue Can You Get; Cry Me a River; Some Cats Know; Out of My Continental Mind; Stormy Monday (65:52).
Personnel: Erna Ferry, vocals, with the Rodger Fox Big Band ē Rodger Fox, leader, trombone solos; Jo Spiers, Scott Whineray, Andrew Daley, Liz Herron, trumpet; Godfrey de Grut, Angus Ramsey, alto sax; Cameron Allen, Pete France, tenor sax; Andrew Baker, baritone sax; Mark Spiers, Mike Young, Daniel McGowan, Kurt Gibson, trombone; Brian Henderson (4, 6, 7, 9), piano; Neil Watson, guitar; Alex Griffith, bass; Graham Cope, drums. Special guests ē Bill Cunliffe (1-3, 5, 8, 10-12), piano, organ; Jon Papenbrook, trumpet.