London-born, Scottish-bred singer Annie Ross
, who is perhaps best known (with Dave Lambert
and Jon Hendricks
) as part of the hip vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (LHR) in the 1950s and '60s, was eighty-three years old when this earnest tribute to Billie Holiday
, To Lady with Love,
was recorded in 2013. At her advanced age, Ross is far more stylist than singer, a fact that is further amplified by the slender backing of only two guitarists, father Bucky and son John Pizzarelli
, and a program comprised entirely of languorous ballads (Johnny Mercer
's shuffling "Travelin' Light" is the only tune that embodies any sort of animating impulse).
Meaning no disrespect to Ross, whose reputation as a jazz vocalist is exemplary, but the range is simply no longer there (she struggles with any note outside her narrow comfort zone) and the articulation isn't what it once was either. On certain words or phrases, the sound is akin to what one might expect to hear from someone who has had extensive dental work, which may in fact be the case. As for Ross's technique, it entails more "speaking on key" than singing as customarily perceived, and even then the timbre is at times unsteady.
Ross's brief spoken introduction precedes ten standards recorded by Lady Day, most of them from the 1958 album Lady in Satin.
Ross then closes with one of her own lyrics, "Music is Forever," a warmhearted salute to legendary jazz artists co-written with pianist Russ Freeman
. Ross has studiously avoided updating several of Holiday's more memorable themes, such as "Good Morning, Heartache," "God Bless the Child" and "Fine and Mellow," as they have been appraised from almost every angle by a succession of well-known and talented artists. Instead, she focuses on evergreens from the Great American Songbook including "For All We Know," "A Ghost of a Chance," "You Don't Know What Love Is," "When Your Lover Has Gone," I Get Along Without You Very Well" and "Easy to Remember," each of which calls for a relatively concise vocal span. An accompanying fifteen-minute-long DVD consists of interviews with Ross and the Pizzarellis.
In his liner notes, Will Friedwald compares To Lady with Love
to other albums "that spotlight one of the heavyweight interpreters who risk presenting themselves in settings that leave them completely exposed," as for example Ella Fitzgerald
, Tony Bennett
/ Bill Evans
, and Carmen McRae
. "In such a setting," he notes, "there's no place to hide, no carpet under which to sweep any shortcomings." Which is perhaps why it is best not to make the attempt once you are well into your eighth decade. In her prime, Annie Ross could have made this remembrance a wonderful tour de force; alas, this is not that same Annie Ross. If sheer nostalgia inspires you, go for it; otherwise, you'd best give this one a pass.