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Annie Ross: To Lady with Love

John Ephland By

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Her spoken-word introduction is like an incantation. "To Lady" may only be 46 seconds long, but it has a lasting impact on everything that follows. Veteran singer (and actor) Annie Ross' To Lady With Love has the potential to unsettle, calm the nerves, transport you to another time and place. Whatever it does, if you let it affect you, this music will likely alter everything that happens to you the rest of the day, or night. After all, along with Annie Ross, it's Billie Holiday we're talking, singing about.

A brilliant move, this CD (which also includes a heartwarming, 15-minute DVD of conversation with Annie and the musicians on board) is steeped in the simple yet truly lovely. Such a move is in part thanks to the eloquent contributions from father Bucky Pizzarelli and son John Pizzarelli on their respective, embracing guitars. Hearing this group of three live helps, but you do stand a ghost of a chance (to quote one of the many standards here) of getting close to Annie, Bucky and John through these 10 standards, plus the coda, "Music Is Forever," written by Ross and Russ Freeman. Apart from "Travelin' Light"—as astute author/critic Will Friedwald points out in his insightful liner notes—the other nine standards are associated with "the final act of Holiday's remarkable career," largely from her 1958 masterpiece Lady In Satin. And like Lady Day was then, exposed now is Annie Ross.

While we probably never had a ghost of a chance to know or hear Holiday live, let alone all of us listen to her age beyond her relatively youngish, fatal 44th year, we can hear the loving ghosts of Billie through this mostly haunting set, enlivened by the Pizzarelli's sometimes piquant, always colorful, always supportive (collective) 14-string string stylings. Ross, now 84, isn't anywhere near her prime, but that doesn't matter. The combination of these three keeps you guessing what's coming next, especially if you don't refer to the back-of-the-package songlist. One moment, it's "I'm A Fool To Want You," a song full of remorse and longing, next it's the relatively buoyant "Violets For Your Furs," the former played as if the composers and Frank Sinatra were left to languish for all eternity, the latter given a nice, familiar swinging lilt, the guitarists' conversations with each other peppering Ross' almost glowing recitation of the song lines of celebration. "You Don't Know What Love Is" continues as a tutorial on love itself, Ross' burning love that cannot live but never dies, her welcome, ageless vibrato despite limited range blanketed, almost protected by the confident love of father and son in communion and in ongoing support to women (notice the plural) they both love through and through. Makes you wonder a bit what kind of history the three of them, and especially two of the three of them, have shared.

Bill Moss and Dave Usher's engineering and production work keep us close to the action, no frills allowed or necessary. You can pretend these three are singing and playing just for themselves, but they aren't. Play this music when it's raining or snowing outside; when you are alone, thinking of someone you miss terribly; when you are lucky to be with someone you love; or when you are out of love, truly alone. That last somebody may be the one To Lady With Love, like its namesake, is truly, enduringly meant for. The wistfulness so convincingly expressed by this crazy group of three, led by the mesmerizer in chief Annie Ross with "It's Easy To Remember," has the potential to make permanent that glorious stain of love. As Annie herself has said, perhaps mixing the two as in a cocktail of quixotic romance, "Music is forever."

Who are we to argue?

Track Listing: To Lady; For All We Know; I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance; I’m a Fool for You; Violets for Your Furs; You Don’t Know What Love Is; You’ve Changed; When Your Love Has Gone; I Get Along Without You Very Well; It’s Easy to Remember; Travelin’ Light; Music is Forever.

Personnel: Annie Ross: vocals; Bucky Pizzarelli: guitar; John Pizzarelli: guitar.

Title: To Lady with Love | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Red Anchor Records

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