It must be genetic, because there’s no doubt that musical talent runs in some families. The Joneses, the Heaths, the LaBarberas — and the Elfs (or should that be Elves?). Michelle Conte, whose brother is the well-known guitarist (and entrepreneur) Mark Elf, makes her recorded debut on Lucky Me!, and it’s hard to believe when listening to her that she (a) began singing seriously only a few years ago, and (b) is self-taught.
Like her brother, Michelle has a natural talent that serves her well on this easygoing and wholly enjoyable album of standards on which Mark (who doubled as producer) lends more than moral support, assuming a supporting role on almost every track and enlisting some of his talented friends to round out his sister’s stellar back-up crew.
Conte’s voice is bright and pleasing, she sings on-key, respects a lyric and charts a steady course, wisely leaving the improvisation to brother Mark and the others, none of whom lets her down. Pros like pianist Allen Farnham, reedman Walt Weiskopf, bassist Neal Minor and drummer John Wikan would give any singer a boost, and they do their part to enhance the album’s charisma. As for Conte, she seems perfectly at ease in the company of such heavyweights, belying her admission in the liner notes that she was “a little nervous.”
In fact, she sounds so happy to be there that it’s hard for her to assume a more sorrowful presence on such songs of loss and despair as “Lush Life” or “I Can’t Get Started.” But Conte gives them her best shot, as she does the happier tunes by such renowned composers as Jimmy van Heusen, Gus Kahn, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Jule Styne, Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Bobby Troup and Antonio Carlos Jobim and a couple that were new to me, “I’m Holding Out” and two takes of “Suddenly Spring.” The album cover shows a smiling Conte in front of a bed of four-leaf clovers, which is entirely appropriate, as she is indeed lucky to have a go-getter like brother Mark (who she says “is solely reponsible for making this project possible”) in her corner.
But luck can only open the door to success it takes talent to keep it from slamming shut again. Luckily for Michelle Conte, she has plenty of that as well.
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