Ellen Vanderslice is one of those lucky people who seems to have managed to find enough space in her life to engage in two activities she really likes. By day, Vanderslice is an architect and urban designer in Portland, Oregon and an internationally known, outspoken pedestrian rights activist. By night, she writes songs and performs as an occasional vocalist in Portland's jazz clubs. As another song writer of note once penned "nice work if you can get it". Wearing her second hat, Ms Vanderslice has managed to garner some of the most prominent and talented members of Portland's large and active jazz fraternity to join on an album of her tunes. The overall results are quite good.
In an admittedly simplistic manner, I tend to divide songs into three categories. The first are those compositions occupying an important place in the Great American Songbook written by giants like Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers, Jimmy Van Heusen, etc. and etc., which are so good they stand on their own merits. The second are tunes which by themselves fall somewhat short of the first group, whose quality is considerably enhanced by good arrangements and excellent performances. The last category, of course, are tunes that are dead in the water and no amount of resuscitation can bring them to life. Ms Vanderslice's fall four square into category two. She is adept at writing good music covering a spectrum of genre. Brazilian dominates "One Minute More", while "If I Never See You Again" merges R & B with Country. Lee Wuthenow's doleful sax from the R & B bag, but Marilyn Keller's vocal is definitely from Nashville. "Reflection in Blue" is a straight ahead romantic ballad, and on the bouncy, blusey "All I Ever Wanted". Lee Wuthenow's tenor has another successful collaboration, this time with vocalist Amandah Jantzen. Outstanding vocalist Rebecca Kilgore shows up for "Moonshadow Dance" making this song come alive as only she can do. Able assistance comes from Dan Faehnle's guitar and Randy Porter's piano. This track is an album highlight.
While the music passes muster, the lyrics which are not all that memorable. Lines like "sometimes I dream you hold me tight, just like you used to do" and "you're gone again and this time this is really the end. No use to pretend that everything's fine... But once in a Blue Moon, drop me a line" are the rule rather than the exception. I had this feeling that I have heard these lines many times before. Recognizing that writing lyrics is no easy thing, a little more originality and imagination by Vanderslice and herco-lyricists would have been useful.