One of the problems in reviewing an album as thoroughly and unexpectedly wonderful as Lonesome Swallow
is that one hardly knows where to begin when parceling out praise and approval. Terry Blaine’s vocals? Irresistible. Pianist Mark Shane’s accompaniment? Brilliant. Tom Desisto / Julie Last’s recording, editing and mixing? Superlative. Blaine’s choice of material? Impeccable. And that’s just for starters.
Blaine is a revelation, a smoky-voiced blues singer in the tradition of Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter and other standard-bearers who enriches every lyric by apprehending, appreciating and amplifying its underlying purpose. Every song has a story to impart, and we’ve heard few more credible and persuasive story-tellers than Blaine.
As Shane says in the liner notes, Blaine “lives life and it comes right out in her music. Strength, honesty, natural deep swing, solid time, humor and a great feel for the blues . . .” Her voice, he accurately affirms, is “amazingly rich and powerfully expressive.” Even better, there’s never a false note. Blaine brings warmth, charisma and, above all, sincerity to every song, not only interpreting a lyric but believing in it as well. She is consistently radiant and charming, but no more so than Shane, whose resourcefulness and empathy serve to double one’s listening pleasure. He moves from ragtime to blues, blues to stride, stride to swing at the drop of a quarter-note, establishing the proper ambiance in every measure while giving Blaine a stable cushion on which to recline.
Blaine’s repertoire, much of it rescued from an undeserved obscurity, includes half a dozen songs written or co-written by the almost-forgotten genius Andy Razaf, the best-known of which is “Memories of You” (lyric by Eubie Blake). Equally impressive are Razaf’s “Lonesome Swallow,” “Willow Tree,” “Do What You Did Last Night,” “Shim Sham Shimmy Dance” and the slyly humorous and slightly risqué rag “My Handy Man,” flirtatiously underlined by Blaine.
The Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm,” played and sung as it should be, with mid-1920s buoyance and élan, is another highlight, as are the seldom-heard verses to “Memories of You,” “Am I Blue” and “I’m Glad There Is You,” Ralph Rainger / Leo Robin / Richard Whiting’s breezy “Hate to Talk About Myself,” lovely readings of “River (Stay ’Way from My Door)” and “Home” (a.k.a “When Shadows Fall”), and, to be honest, everything else, which includes Fats Waller’s “Squeeze Me,” Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer’s “Jeepers Creepers,” Victor Young / Ned Washington’s “100 Years from Today,” Iving Mills’ “Long About Midnight” and two neglected ragtime classics by James P. Johnson, “You Don’t Understand” and “Don’t Cry Baby.”
Lonesome Swallow, patterned after the late-’20s duets recorded by Waters and Johnson, is in every respect a worthy successor to those memorable sessions. If you’re fond of vocal albums but the budget can accommodate only one, this is the one. No kidding. Let me put it another way: while I have thousands of compact discs in the library, that number includes no more than a handful by singers, male or female. But I’ll make sure there’s room on the shelf for this one.
Contact: Jukebox Jazz, 1-800-644-9290. Web site, www.jukeboxjazz.com