Jennifer Leitham, already known as one of the most accomplished bassists on the West Coast (as well as other precincts spanning the globe), spreads her wings, so to speak, on Remnants of Humanity, singing on seven numbers as well as playing her usual assertive upright bass most of the way. As a singer and musician, Leitham has plenty to say, addressing, as she writes, the "need for outcry against injustice and the cruelty being done in the name of the country . . ." The album, Leitham says, "is dedicated to all those who are fighting back, the 'remnants of humanity.'"
While Leitham sings with earnestness and conviction, it's clear she's a bassist first, a vocalist second. Paradoxically, she's at her best on Frank Loesser's well-traveled standard "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year" (with a nod to Obama) and John Lennon / Paul McCartney's sardonic "When I'm Sixty-Four." The album's title song and acidulous "Orange Is the New Red" are a touch less coherent, owing in part to dodgy sound mixing and to Leitham's throaty timbre and imprecise articulation, but Steely Dan's "The Man in the Tin Foil Hat" (a.k.a. Donald J. Trump) comes through loud and clear, its trenchant satire landing squarely on target. The other vocals, "Manhood" and (no kidding) "The Dick Van Dyke Show Theme" rest somewhere in between.
The instrumentals include a playful, up-tempo reading of J.S. Bach's "Air on the G String" (a vigorous workout for Leitham's left-handed bass), the Bonanza-like "Heart of the West" (which Leitham introduces with a rendition of "Where Is Your Heart?" from the film Moulin Rouge) and the evocative, Hawaii-tinged "Memories of Poipu," on which Leitham plays baritone ukulele (as she does on "Heart of the West") with guests Abe Lagrimas Jr. and Jeff Linsky on tenor ukulele. This is basically Leitham's working trio (Andy Langham, piano; Randy Drake, drums) with a handful of special guests including Lagrimas, Linsky, trombonist Scott Whitfield ("Heart of the West"), organist Dr. Gayle Serdan ("Tin Foil Hat") and trumpeter Nolan Shaheed ("When I'm Sixty-Four"). The trio is tight-knit and responsive, with Langham especially sharp and engaging whenever he solos. Splendid solos as well by guests Whitfield and Shaheed.
While there's never any doubt about Leitham's uncommon artistry as a bassist, her singing is rather less assured, even though her heart is decidedly in the right place. And that's not to imply that her singing is less than able; she sings on-key with suitable phrasing and time. She simply lacks the polish and persona of a full-time vocalist. But Leitham gives the best she has, and Remnants is on the whole a better than average session, well worth hearing and appreciating.
Remnants of Humanity; Air on the G String; Orange Is the New Red; Manhood; Heart of the West; Tin Foil Hat; Spring Will Be a Little Late
This Year; When I’m Sixty-Four; Memories of Poipu; The Dick van Dyke Show Theme.
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