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Jane Stuart: Don't Look Back

Bruce Lindsay By

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From the opening bars of "I Just Found Out About Love," Jane Stuart takes control of this sophisticated collection of tunes with a voice that oozes style, confidence and emotional strength. Don't Look Back brings Stuart together with an empathic group of musicians, the arrangements are always interesting and at times inspired, and the conclusion is clear: this is a great vocal jazz album.

Stuart has a long history as a dancer, actor and singer—she was performing on TV at the age of five— but her first album, the self-produced Beginning to See The Light, didn't appear until 2007. Her style is mainstream, informed by pop and by Broadway, and characterized by a clarity and control that ensures she invests each lyric with honest emotion. She sings with subtle but effective shifts in tone, emphasis or volume that immediately communicate the story—there's no need for vocal acrobatics or showboating, and Stuart indulges in neither of them. Her performance of Johnny Mandel's "Don't Look Back" is absolutely beautiful. Sad but hopeful, her voice is superbly engaging: the restrained, gentle backing—from drummer Rick De Kovessey, percussionist Emedin Rivera, bassist Kermit Driscoll and pianist Rave Tesar—is the perfect accompaniment.

The song selection takes from the Great American Songbook, musical theatre and pop classics. Stuart's own "Let It Come To You" is a ballad of regret that shares a lineage with Gene de Paul's "You Don't Know What Love Is." She removes Lionel Bart's "Who Will Buy" from its stage musical origins, gives it a slinky arrangement and brings in tenor saxophonist Frank Elmo to add a rasping, high-energy solo.

Stuart's reworking of two songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney is intriguing. Her arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" slows it down, builds in delicate and spacious guitar from Dave Stryker and invests it with more glamour than this sad tale of loneliness usually receives, while her treatment of the lesser-known "I'll Follow The Sun" is genuinely fresh. The original is pretty, light and optimistic; here, Stuart turns it into a torch ballad, delivering a vocal performance of such emotional intensity that it seems as if she is telling of her own personal heartbreak.

Track Listing: I Just Found Out About Love; Experiment; Eleanor Rigby; Don't Look Back; Bird Of Beauty; Let It Come To You; Who Will Buy; Wheelers And Dealers; You Are There; Summertime; I'll Follow The Sun; I Didn't Know What Time It Was.

Personnel: Jane Stuart: vocals; Rave Tesar: keyboards, background vocals; Rick De Kovessey: drums, background vocals; Sue Williams: bass (1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 12); Kermit Driscoll: bass (3-6, 11); Emedin Rivera: percussion, whistles; Dave Stryker: guitar; Dick Oatts: alto sax, flute; Frank Elmo: tenor sax; Orlando Quinones: background vocals; Paige Sandusky: background vocals.

Title: Don't Look Back | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced

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