A solid pedigree does not necessarily guarantee talent, but in the case of Ray Brown Jr. it clearly has, which makes Friends and Family even more disappointing. Brown has an evocative baritone and an impeccable mastery over the art of singing that rivals the best classically trained opera performers. His delivery on this record, however, is monotonous and varies little from song to song. The presence of different guest artists is the only differentiator among the tracks.
The material is lightweight, consisting mainly of old pop standards and some easy listening jazzy numbers with an occasional jazz tune mixed in. All of the songs are vocal duets punctuated by short and unobtrusive instrumental interludes.
The guest list consists of jazz royalty, pop and R&B stars, and other talented musicians. The lack of opportunity for these artists to demonstrate their prowess is even more frustrating. A saxophonist of the caliber of James Moody only blows a few choruses, with an appearance mainly confined to his amusing but lesser vocal skills. Dr. Lonnie Smith's organ is relegated to the background and, unfortunately, this is not where criticism stops.
There are, however, two interesting tracks. One, a duet with Brown's daughter on "A Tisket A Tasket," was his mother, Ella Fitzgerald's first hit. It's a cute rendition showing that talent has certainly passed onto the third generation of the Browns. The second is an older recording of a duet with his mother, backed by his father, bassist Ray Brown. The recording quality is sub par and, sadly, Brown's voice is barely audible.
Friends and Family is a rather disappointing record from a hugely talented artist, despite the presence of veritable who's who of musical aristocracy. There are occasional pleasant moments, but the mostly lightweight material does not allow for a full exhibition of their talents. It sounds like a disc that probably was a lot of fun to make but, alas, is not matched by an equally satisfying listening experience.
Can't Take My Eyes Off You; I'm Beginning To See The Light; Sunny Side Of The Street; Too Close For Comfort; Memphis; I Wish You Love; Lullaby Of Birdland; Up On The Roof; Ordinary Fool; A-Tisket-A-Tasket; Something's Gotta Give; Everybody's Cryin' Mercy; Girls On The Beach; Laughter In The Rain; I Thought About You; How High The Moon.
Ray Brown Jr: vocals; Jane Monheit: vocals; Melba Moore: vocals; Maria Muldaur: vocals; Dr. John: vocals; Dionne Warwick: vocals; Freda Payne: vocals; Sophie B. Hawkins: vocals; Paul Williams: vocals; Haylee: vocals; Dave Somerville: vocals; Kim Hoyer: vocals; Sally Kellerman: vocals; Ella Fitzgerald: vocals; David "Fathead" Newman: tenor saxophone; Robert Kyle: tenor saxophone; Terry Gibbs: vibraphone; James Moody: vocals, tenor saxophone; Dr. Lonnie Smith: vocals, organ; Ray Brown: bass; Jose Marino: bass; Jim Hughart: bass; James Leary: bass; Joe T. Vanelli: bass; Otimaro Ruiz: piano; Joel Scott: piano; Mitchell Long: guitar; Frederico Ramos: guitar; Enzo Todesco: drums; Quinton Dennard: drums; Kevin Ricard: percussion.