In previous musical lives, Spanky Wilson recorded more than half a dozen albums and performed and recorded with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Smith and Sammy Davis Jr. The Philadelphia-born and bred musician moved to Los Angeles then in the early 1980s relocated to France, where she spent more than a decade as a jazz singer before returning to LA in 2000.
Upon her return, she was "discovered by multi-instrumentalist and producer Will Holland. Before they met, Holland had become a fan of Wilson's feisty and soulful voice through her hard-to-find records, and he found her through the help of a French journalist. He brought Wilson in to sing on Mishaps Happening, the 2003 release by Holland's electronica nom de plume, Quantic.
Here Wilson fronts Holland's live performance ensemble the Quantic Soul Orchestra and comes back home to American soul, masterfully snapping off her vocals like a sharp-tongued spiritual heir to Aretha "The Queen of Soul Franklin. Featured in several instrumental reprises of Wilson's vocal tracks, the Orchestra sounds more like Wilson's co-star than her support band, and the rhythm section in particular plumps up on several New Orleans fatback grooves garnished with Memphis country funk.
Vocal (to open) and instrumental (to close) versions of the title track mash up the insistent itch of classic James Brown with second-line snare drum rolls and snaps. "That's How It Was may sound like cheery fun, but it's a screed about post-Katrina Gulf Coast recovery efforts cast in torrid, thick Crescent City funk; Holland's production makes the snare drum crack like thunder and the bass sound like a big funk whirlpool that swirls the music around.
Wilson sounds supremely cocksure in "A Woman Like Me ("...don't grow on no tree, just so you know) and the second verse of "Blood from a Stone, a West Coast Latin funk groove with a bass line and horn chart that sound poised to cruise through "Low Rider but then veer tangentially away.
But Wilson also knows to not leave you without a smile, and she delivers it with a romp through the warhorse "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover. Its frantic arrangementan up-tempo blues two-step tugged in the opposite direction by lazy mariachi hornspresents her best vocal performance, probably because it challenges her voice the most.
Spanky Wilson: vocals; Eric Biondo: trumpet; Mick Bolger: trumpet; Joel Bowers: baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone; Sheffer Bruton: trombone; Matt Demeritt: tenor saxophone; Will Holland: guitar, tambourine, brass; Russell Knight: drums; David Ralicke: baritone saxophone; Phil Ranelin: trombone; Tom Rawls: trombone; Mike Simmonds: violin; Todd M. Simon: trumpet, flugelhorn, horn arrangements, horn conductor; Tracy Wannomae: alto saxophone.
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