Delmark Records waited 45 years to release its first vocal Jazz album. The singer who persuaded them to do so is Francine Griffin, a senior citizen from Cincinnati who proves on Song Bird
that Delmark’s decision has considerable merit. She’s a seasoned stylist in the manner of a Shirley Horn, Betty Carter or Alberta Hunter, bending a note or phrase here, altering a tempo there, singing ahead of, behind or on the beat, scatting when appropriate and generally having her own sweet way with a lyric. While Griffin’s well–traveled pipes have endured the usual wear and tear associated with a long career (she began singing professionally at age 18), one would never presume that from the evenness of her clear mid–range delivery (which wavers modestly only on Benny Golson’s soulful “I Remember Clifford”). Perhaps that’s because Griffin’s career was interrupted for a number of years while she raised her several children before returning, as did Hunter, at an age when many people would be looking forward to “retirement.” The material traverses a wide expanse from ballads to burners, ballads to lesser–known gems (such as “Don’t Be on the Outside,” “With a Twist of the Wrist”). Three songs (“If I Were a Bell,” “Will You Still Be Mine?,” “Anthropology”) can be described as mercurial, and Griffin fares best on the last two (she’s all over the map on “If I Were a Bell,” and one frequently doubts she’ll be able to cross the finish line along with the others; she does, but it’s close enough to require a photo). Griffin is a captivating balladeer (“You’ve Changed,” “Inside a Silent Tear,” “You Won’t Forget Me,” “Body and Soul”) and even stronger at mid–tempo (“Two Little Words,” “It’s Crazy,” “Outside,” “Twist of the Wrist,” “I Hadn’t Anyone ’Til You”). To help raise Griffin’s comfort level, Delmark has surrounded her with some of the sleekest horses in its stable — Pickens, Campbell, Whitfield, Raynor, Williams and Fludas for rhythm, Smith, Ford, McKee, Hoyle and Petersen for melody and improv. They’re first–class, but this is Griffin’s show. A Song Bird
she is, and Delmark deserves applause for sharing her songs with a wider audience.
Track listing: Two Little Words; If I Were a Bell; You’ve Changed; Anthropology; Inside a Silent Tear; It’s Crazy; Don’t Be on the Outside; I Remember Clifford; Will You Still Be Mine?; It Don’t Mean a Thing; With a Twist of the Wrist; You Won’t Forget Me; I Hadn’t Anyone ’Til You; Body and Soul (66:38).