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Karen Lane Organ Project: Two Steps from the Blues

Geno Thackara By

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From intimate singer-songwriter crooning to bossa nova, Karen Lane and her versatile voice have graced many a stage in quite different contexts. The blues have always been an ingredient in there as well—albeit an infrequent one usually represented by the occasional encore—so it was probably inevitable that this facet of her personality would get its own outlet at some point. She cites Sarah Vaughan's Sarah Sings Soulfully (Roulette, 1963) as a lifelong staple and inspiration for this recording, while also paying an obvious tribute to Bobby "Blue" Bland's iconic Two Steps from the Blues (Duke, 1961). Unfortunate acronym aside, the Karen Lane Organ Project is an ear-pleasing outfit paying soulful homage to the spirit of those albums without drifting too close to imitation.

This Two Steps essentially shows the other side of the coin to its namesake; where Bland was raw and loud, Lane and an able crew offer a low-key listen that's good for a late drive home or the last nightcap before bed. Pete Whittaker's touch on the Hammond organ is subtle while steady enough to justify its prominence in the band name. It's not really featured more than anything else, as it happens. He's happy to trade conversational solos with the Grant Green-ish stylings of Dominic Ashworth's guitar, while John Hoare's trumpeting effortlessly shifts from airy to earthy based on what a particular song needs. He makes an especially upbeat addition to the leisurely swing vibe of "Easy Street" before the gang's rotation of solos turns it into the album's biggest (i.e. most mid-tempo) relative toe-tapper.

With the band's tasteful backing and material from unimpeachable sources like Nina Simone or Stevie Wonder, Lane creates a cocktail-lounge mood of the most pleasant kind. Her clear alto is all sugar and smooth edges. She can be jaunty during "Hand Full of Soul" or quietly seductive on the smoky title track, often happy to keep it simple or bend a note to squeeze a little more expression out of it. Everyone's willing to share space and the chemistry is just as restrained as the arrangements need. There's nothing really wild or surprising here, but by the time you're winding down at the end of the night, something quietly smooth should be just the thing instead.

Track Listing: Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'; Don't Explain; A Handful of Soul; Two Steps from the Blues; Easy Street; I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry; All Night Long; Gravy Waltz; Make Sure You're Sure; He Was Too Good to Me; Sugar in My Bowl.

Personnel: Karen Lane: vocals; Pete Whittaker: Hammond organ; Dominic Ashworth: guitar; Nic France: drums & percussion; John Hoare: trumpet.

Title: Two Steps from the Blues | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Krushgroove Productions

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