November 17, 2008

Girl Talk

by Jim Newsom

Marilyn Scott
Every Time We Say Goodbye

Venus Records

Erin Bode
The Little Garden

Native Language

Krista Detor
Cover Their Eyes


Kathleen Grace Band


Marilyn Scott has one of the most appealing voices in contemporary music: highly melodic, a hint of huskiness, very sensual and oh-so soulful. For most of her career, she has wrapped that voice around the pop-flavored side of jazz, working with folks like the Yellowjackets, Bobby Caldwell, George Duke and Michael Franks. She spent a large chunk of her career in the studios of southern California backing up others and singing on movie soundtracks, but her own recordings have been among the most compelling and rewarding of those lumped into the smooth jazz category.

With Every Time We Say Goodbye, she tackles a setlist pulled from the Great American Songbook for a change. Most of the songs are well known and well worn, yet her sparkling voice and the fresh arrangements give new life to even the most time-battered tune. Her “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” is magnificent; “Detour Ahead” swings with more verve than is customary.

Ironically, “I Love Paris” sounds more like a typical “Caravan,” while “Caravan” cooks with a funky edge rarely applied to that old warhorse. And though Cyrus Chestnut and Ken Peplowski are the big names in the band, it’s guitarist Paul Bollenback who stands out the most, anchoring the disc with crisp chords and insinuating lines that take the proceedings to another level. Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” usually drags, but here is positively vibrant, thanks in large part to Bollenback’s electric chordalities.


Erin Bode entered the public arena four years ago labeled a jazz singer, primarily because she was on a jazz record label. But, while she has an obvious grounding in the intricacies of jazz, she is really more of a singer-songwriter in the Carole King-Carly Simon-Joni Mitchell vein.

Her pianist and co-writer Adam Maness is an accomplished player with an economical style that enhances and undergirds Bode’s light-as-a-feather vocal delivery. And she works wonders roaming across a wide emotional range with that girlish voice.

The duo’s songwriting has a finely honed pop feel, complete with memorable melodies and catchy hooks. The album’s opener, “New England Friends” is an excellent example, the piano grabbing your attention with its choppy intro and Bode’s irresistible voice sailing through the song’s shiver-inducing musicality.

The backing tracks are built around the singer’s regular trio, with husband Syd Rodway on bass and drummer Derrek Phillips hunkering down behind the traps. But many of the songs are fattened up sympathetically with additional instrumentation—when a clarinet-bass clarinet-soprano sax chorus appears in “Sweater Song,” the piece positively soars.

“Chasing After You” chases after a ‘70s vibe with its sweet Steely Dan electric piano stylings and acoustic guitar bed; “It’s All Your Fault” begins as a slinky standup bass walk that grows into a jazzy piano figurine enhanced by some saxophonics straight out of the old Kingston, Jamaica studios. And the one non-original takes up where Bode’s last outing left off—on Over and Over, she served up a glorious reinvention of Paul Simon’s “Graceland;” here she burrows gently into Simon’s “Born at the Right Time,” drawing more meaning out of the lyrics than I knew was there.


Krista Detor is another singer-songwriter whose music defies easy categorization. A pianist with an expressive, sultry singing voice, she has found a radio home on the Euro-Americana charts across the ocean. Her Midwestern sensibilities seem to connect with listeners in Belgium, Germany and England who are drawn to the melancholy of the mythologized Great Plains.

Her first album, Mudshow, was a remarkable debut, fully realized and thoroughly original. Her latest, Cover Their Eyes, is not as immediately striking, taking longer to unfold and reveal its musical delights. But like a long line of favorite records, it grows on you with each new play until you can’t get the songs out of your head.

The album’s opening line succinctly lays out Detor’s lyrical milieu: “The Studebaker plant is closing down, Chevy’s taking over the town…” With an elliptical melody embellished with the singer’s multi-tracked harmonies, laid-back piano and David Weber’s sympathetic production touches, the plaintive tone of the disc is set.

“Marlene in a Movie” is as close to rock-n-roll as Detor gets; in “Go Ahead and Wait,” the narrator declares what a beautiful day it is, but “I’ll probably end it all tomorrow” while a tuba honks out a bassline in the background. The tune to “Waterline” sounds like it was pulled out of the Appalachian mountain air.

Detor told me earlier this year that her music often comes through visual sources, “the way a certain light hits something.” She paints vivid pictures through the poetry of her lyrics: “Miniature bottles all stand uninspected/right next to the beer steins my father collected/Dust from the curtains is snow in the air/and they are all hiding still, back behind there.” (“Cover Their Eyes”)

But as rich as is her wordsmithery, it’s ultimately the sound that defines this recording. Touches of violin and dobro here and there, a banjo animating “Anemic Moon,” a tinkling cocktail piano on “Dinner with Chantel,” the circularity of “Icarus,” the gospel call-and-response of “Lay Him Down.” It’s the sound of the American heartland.


Kathleen Grace started her artistic life as a jazz singer in the Tierney Sutton mold. In fact, she studied with Sutton, and the influence was clearly apparent on her first couple of CDs. With Mirror, her third outing, she comes into her own, spreading her wings as a songwriter and further refining her distinctive singing style.

Her range as a composer is surprisingly broad and refreshingly eclectic. You’d swear that “Penny” must’ve from some Broadway musical like Fiddler on the Roof, though Perry Smith’s electric guitar solo in the middle gives the arrangement an edge rarely heard in a theatrical production. “Am I Enough Yet” is a tasty slice of jazzy pop while “The Furies,” whose lyric is based on Act IV of Hamlet, recalls Peggy Lee’s sexy stroll through “Fever.” The title track marries a mysterious, repetitive piano figure of a chorus with a folkish verse and a tiny touch of jazz-rock fusion riff thrown into the transitions for good measure.

Grace oozes sexuality on Randy Newman’s bluesy “Let Me Go,” begging the question of why anyone would. Her voice becomes angelic on the beautifully conceived “A Place for You” and literally lifts to the heavens on the multi-tracked harmonies haunting “Elijah.” Mirror is too short, really an EP not an LP, but in this time of diminished attention spans, it’s not a bad thing to leave listeners begging for more.


Marilyn Scott, Erin Bode, Krista Detor and Kathleen Grace are all singers whose albums just keep getting better. Scott’s venture into the familiar raises her cachet in the “real jazz” world. Bode’s third release knocks down the boundaries that artificially separate musical genres and styles. Detor’s latest takes her further down the road in her ongoing exploration of the earthy lives lived and dreamed in the midsection of America. Grace’s new disc expands her already intriguing palette as an enchanting vocalist and a songwriter with fresh ideas. Each has something special to offer; all are deserving of much wider acclaim.

copyright © 2008 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.