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Bev Kelly: In Person

AAJ Staff By

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Bev Kelly’s second album for Riverside is a contrast in every way. Her first, Love Locked Out, was a meticulous studio date in New York, lesser-known songs (“Lonelyville”, “Weak for the Man”) by a stellar cast (Burrell, Edison, Hinton). This was live at San Francisco’s Coffee Gallery (does that say “beatnik” or what?) and features famous songs with obscure players (Pony Poindexter later recorded for Prestige; the others are barely remembered.) Everything has changed – including Bev’s hair! It was blonde on the first album.) The new surroundings mean close interplay, a more intimate sound, and, in general, a warmer performance.

One other thing you notice: Bev has changed her delivery. At times she would sound overly breathy, and linger on words in a way that seemed affected. That style was an acquired taste, and made it hard for me to enjoy Love Locked Out. Here she sings simpler, opening “Long Ago and Far Away” without her vibrato. She also has a light ring to her voice, not stressing the lower register as she did before. “Flip Nunez” she says, and her pianist takes a chorus, a simple line leading to some tasty chords. When Bev returns, hear Poindexter come in softly, whispering a soft refrain that creeps up on you. It’s a great approach, and he does it for most of the album.

At the top of her range Bev leads slowly into “Then I’ll Be Tired of You” – a frail voice, sounding quite vulnerable. When she gets to repeating the bridge (“’til wrong is right, ‘til all the birds refuse to sing”) the weak voice turns joyous, Nunez gets very tender, and Johnny Allen bows a barely audible low note – beautiful. With “My Foolish Heart” Bev recalls her old style: lots of vibrato and a voice short of breath. This belongs to Poindexter: he blows strong at the end and gives the tune force it lacked before.

“Night and Day” offers a strong vocal (she even gets brassy – that’s a surprise!) and a high wail from Poindexter – it wraps the number with a classy bow. His fluttering solo, the first so far, is also bold, and energizes the number like anything. “It Never Entered My Mind” opens with warm Nunez, more bowed Allen (great tone, and too soft) and the verse. On the chorus the vibrato gets thick and on certain verses (“you warned me if ever you scorned me”) it charms me to no end.

On the second half, Bev gets more forceful, and the band urges her on. “Just Friends” opens wistful, Bev with her typical approach; Tony Johnson picks up the pace. Bev repeats the chorus with a pleasing shout, the crowd adding some claps. Poindexter gets a laid-back solo; he’s worldly and he’s heard the story before. The crowd loves it, and it leads to a graceful “Body and Soul”. Here her low swoops work, and her simple style pulls it off. Pony does a fine Lester behind her, and Allen bows a groan at the end, giving her strength.

“Love Letters” gets he “Just Friends” soft-to-hard treatment, adding conviction to the tender lyric. Nunez gets lush on “This is Always”, and Pony’s whispering delights. Ben’s soaring at the end makes it a keeper. “Falling in Love with Love” starts O.K., then Bev gets joyously vital, with brash assurance and another guttural groan. Pony and Flip both appreciate the heightened tempo, and so do I. Last is a reqest for “My Funny Valentine”; someone (my guess the requester) says “Yeah, baby!” Her voice is strong; a tiny taste of vibrato gives it life. The band comes through like always, and hear the ending, with a quiet Poindexter and Bev whispering “Thank You.” It’s a nice show, and her warmth is endearing. This shows her to better advantage than her studio date, and I’m glad they recorded it.

Title: In Person | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Fantasy Jazz

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