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Barbara Morrison: Visit Me

AAJ Staff By

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This isn’t a record; it’s a conversation. Barbara Morrison talks to her band, her duet partners; most emphatically she talks to you, in a piercing style hard to forget. While her background’s in R&B (many years with The Johnny Otis Show, a European tour opening for Ray Charles) here Barbara displays her flair for jazz, with a cast to match.. Plenty of big names, but she outplays them all: urgent, exuberant, and more than a little sassy. An intriguing sound, and worthy of a visit.

Depending on the song, Barbara comes at you with two different voices. On swingers she’s tough, attacking phrases with a sharp ring – sort of a distaff Nat Cole. The title tune’s a modern waltz: she invites you "with my frying pan and my electric fan/ And we can be so cool." Phil Wright pumps the sly chords, and it skates until Ralph Moore starts up. Then it charges: big honk, and a force that matches Barbara’s. "Can I get you something?" she asks – already you’re in the mood.

"Rocket Love" is more sedate, a cold lyric with the tang of heartbreak. Her voice is the same, just a tad weary; Nolan Shaheed rains a sad mute, the sound of a lonely heart. She’s hurt, but not for long: with "You" comes Kevin Mahoganny. He swoops low, the gives a light touch to words of admiration. She leaps with joy, a chemistry that feels very real – "You know I’m here for you, baby!" The feeling is mutual.

Already it’s warm, and it keeps getting hotter. "When He Is Near" has an elegant swelter, composed by Wright and Esmond Edwards. (Together they produced at Chess Records.) Nothing to this mood: just a piano, clicking sticks, and a passion unfolding. Ricky Woodard growls a bit; that’s the fire, and how it grows. "Ill Wind" is slower, but the feeling remains – lots of sass, fighting back the clouds. She’s brassy near the end, and leaves with a trill like the purest flute. A lovely transition, and the beauty doesn’t stop there.

When the pace slows down, Barbara gets sweeter: tender notes float, without that sharp cry. "River’s Invitation" might talk of suicide, but the singer coos, hearing the voice that tells her not to worry. (Woodard is edgy, shouting it something fierce.) "Exactly Like You" calls from the Victrola, a charming mute, more so when Snooky Young sings. (Think of Roy Eldridge singing – the same easy feel.) She answers in chirps, a cutie-pie tone so right for this tune. Wright is slick on "This Is Always", glowing while the brushes pat. Barbara is smooth, a soft hand on your shoulder; Moore answers with a lovable rasp. "Where Are You" is the same, more intimate: here is a trio, wonderful thick bass (the late Andy Simpkins) and a voice that keeps calling. The lyric is sad, but not Barbara – hopeful she is, like Woodard on the chorus. It exits with a kiss on your cheek, and you wonder where she is. Don’t worry – with this disc, you can always visit her.


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