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Tiffany Austin: Nothing But Soul

Dan Bilawsky By

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While countless artists have covered the music of Hoagy Carmichael, album-length tributes from a single artist saluting his work aren't all that common; Carmichael salutes that reshape some of his most beloved compositions are, understandably, even more scarce, as there are heavy risks involved in toying with the nature of his treasured songs. Tiffany Austin, however, isn't afraid of expressing her love of Carmichael's work in her own sweetly soulful way.

On Nothing But Soul, this Berkeley-based singer interprets and revises six Carmichael-penned classics, covers a pair of pieces from other writers that Carmichael recorded as a singer, and delivers a wordless a cappella duet with saxophonist/vocalist Howard Wiley that's based on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation." Many if not most of Carmichael's most beloved songs are included, but not in their standard shapes and forms. "Stardust," for example, is reborn as a gently bouncing swinger with nary a trace of its balladic DNA to be found. That number, which opens the album, gives the first hint that this isn't paint-by-numbers Carmichael. From there, Austin continues to tweak and twist his work to her liking. "Skylark" is melodically-centered but slightly askew in other respects, "Baltimore Oriole" vacillates between a pummeling straight-eighth feel and swing, and "Georgia" is given a more low-key arrangement that suits Austin's expressive voice. None of these pieces are unrecognizable in their new form(s), but each is given enough nips and tucks to set them apart from the many versions that have come before.

Austin works with a simpatico set of musicians that help to enliven this music and accentuate the curves in her voice. Wiley is good to go in any scenario, delivering dancing saxophone obbligato work, bluesy lines, and other thoughts; pianist Glen Pearson is Austin's guide through the music, providing intimate accompaniment on the piano-and-voice duo performance of "I Get Along Without You Very Well" and setting up songs like "Skylark" and "Georgia" with simple figures that act as bonding agents as the music coheres; bassist Ron Belcher is a rock and a gas, setting everything in place in most cases and letting loose to have a good time during his brief trip alone with Austin on "Sing Me A Swing Song (And Let Me Dance); and drummer Sly Randolph is comfortable laying it down in raucous and refined ways. Austin clearly knows how to pick her partners.

Nothing But Soul has its fair share of polished statements, but there are also charmingly informal presentations to be found in the mix. The balance between the two, coupled with Austin's belief in brevity, allows the album to hold interest from beginning to end. This is a fun listen from the first, but it gets better with repeated spins. All hail Austin hailing Carmichael.

Track Listing: Stardust; Baltimore Oriole; I Get Along Without You Very Well; I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful); Skylark; I Walk The Line;Georgia; Sine Me A Song (And Let Me Dance); Tete-A-Tete.

Personnel: Tiffany Austin: vocals; Howard Wiley: tenor saxophone, vocals; Glen Pearson: piano; Ron Belcher: bass; Sly Randolph: drums.

Title: Nothing But Soul | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Con Alma Music

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