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Maye Cavallaro's new album, Hearts, is, to paraphrase Gilbert & Sullivan, "a most ingenious paradox" – in other words, a knotty challenge for a reviewer. To state the problem as clearly as possible, Cavallaro is a very good singer who receives admirable support from guitarist Mimi Fox, percussionist Ian Dogole and multi-reedist Paul McCandless, and I'd like nothing better than to say that the album really knocked me out – but I can't. The fact is, I found much of it less than interesting, even though everyone plays the proper notes while Cavallaro does the best she can to breathe life into the less-than-vibrant enterprise.
What ultimately sinks the ship is Cavallaro's unconventional choice of material. Although one should perhaps give her credit for trying something out of the ordinary, it's simply hard (for me) to get excited about Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," Jesse Barish's & quot;Hearts," Paul Simon's "Under African Skies," or Buddy Johnson's "Save Your Love for Me.& quot; Horace Silver's "Peace" and Benny Carter/Sammy Cahn's "Only Trust Your Heart" can be safely dropped in the same barrel. Yes, there are three songs by Ellington and another by Rodgers and Hart (not to mention Meredith Willson's poignant "Till There Was You"), but even though Cavallaro gives them her best shot, they are several steps removed from entrancing.
On the other hand, Cavallaro is a splendid singer whose clear contralto is enhanced by flawless diction and solid musical awareness, but even those admirable qualities aren't enough to turn most of these rather ordinary songs into winners. Nor are the best efforts of Fox, Dogole and McCandless. Half of the dozen selections are duets with Fox; McCandless plays English horn on "Hearts," soprano saxophone on "Only Trust Your Heart" and "Spring Is Here," while Dogole brightens the aforementioned "African Skies" with udu and African talking drum.
In sum, a decidedly mixed bag with suitably high marks for performance but a reluctant thumbs down for repertoire. If you can appreciate first-class singing even in the service of largely nondescript lyrics, check it out.
Track Listing: Nothin' But the Blues; Peace; Almost Blue; Hearts; I'm Beginning to See the Light; Only Trust Your
Heart; Under African Skies; Daydream; Don?t Get Around Much Anymore; Save Your Love for Me;
Spring Is Here; Till There Was You (49:13).
Personnel: Maye Cavallaro, vocals; Mimi Fox, guitars; Paul McCandless, reeds; Ian Dogole, percussion.