If Nina Knew (Music Thoughts: Abiah sings Nina, Abiah)

abiah_sings_ninaVery few people try to tackle the Nina Simone songbook only because she sings her songs with such a distinct style that you more than often just try to imitate her. Abiah tries his hand on this on ‘Abiah sings Nina.’

I wish I liked it more. He certainly has captured the Nina Simone ‘mood,’ and has chosen a great section of her repertoire – the tender, love-filled Nina – and that’s a surprise, as I had thought he would cover her more ‘political’ songs. But I heard more Nina than Abiah here, and I really wanted to know Abiah the singer, since I really don’t know much about him. I love the slow and tender sound of the album – his ‘Wild Is The Wind’ is going on my favorites playlist – but the album just made me want to Nina Simone more. I guess that is not the worst thing in the world – everyone needs to know Nina – but I wanted something more original, and was disappointed. aboiahnina

Smooth Criminal (Music Thoughts: A Tribute To Michael Jackson, Margeaux Lampley)

mlmjThis album by Margeaux Lampley, ‘A Tribute to Michael Jackson’ was recommended to me by Spotify, and I could see why. My playlists are peppered by jazz vocalists and ‘world’ singers, and Ms. Lampley lives in Paris, though she is originally from Oakland, California. A jazz take on Michael Jackson songs? Kinda unique, I thought, and I am sure there are worse things in the world.

Ms. Lampley has a nice clear voice – kinda clean and she enunciates the lyrics clearly. She treats these songs fairly faithfully – I bet these songs inspire and intimidate her at the same time – and the arrangements verge more towards ‘smooth jazz,’ as there isn’t much edge to them. You get the usual suspects: ‘Thriller,’ ‘Ben,’ ‘Rock With You.’ But they all sound the same and seem to blend into one sound. It’s like watching a covers band (in this case a quartet) where you feel like you want to sing along to the songs and the main singer just blends into the background. I am sure Ms. Lampley has great musical personality. It just doesn’t show in this album.

Maybe The Moon (Music Thoughts: How High The Moon, Matt Alber)

51qzlZTmxBL._SS500Something always crazy happens during a full moon, they say.  Matt Alber’s ‘How High the Moon’ is a very straightforward album, though. And (joke coming) perhaps that’s odd because Alber is openly gay. The great thing about this album is how at once you realize that Alber is not your run-of-the-mill wannabe crooner. His styling and phrasing isn’t reminiscent of a Sinatra or a Bennett, like most male crooner are. He definitely does not sound like he is imitating someone, even while his arrangements are steeped in these singers’ influence.

I wish it stood out more for me. I have listened to the album a couple of times and it has yet to make an imprint besides that first impression. Perhaps it is very nuanced that I need to listen more to it, but I ask myself, do I have the time? The ‘moon theme’ is cute, but have been done before, and he actually did a great job of compiling a good collection of lunar tunes. I like his longing ‘Blue Moon’ that has a lot more angst than I am normally used to when I hear that song. But other that that, all’s a blur – like a liar’s moon.

Night and Deyo (Music Thoughts: [When You] Live Alone, Debbie Deyo)

500x500I have to admit, when I first listened to Debbie Deyo’s album ‘When You Live Alone,’ I was underwhelmed. But it had more to do that I listened to it on my early morning walk. It’s just not the right mood for her music. It wasn’t until I listened to it again on my way home that same day that I truly appreciated it. Deyo is a singer/pianist, or perhaps more pianist/singer, as I read that she is a trained classical pianist. She sings in a very soulful plain manner, and I love that style, and she even reminds me of my dear old beloved Patti Wicks. She feels these songs more, and her interpretation is very subtle, and if you don’t listen closely to it, you will miss her nuances.

My favorite track in the album, the one that literally stopped me dead in my tracks, was her version of ‘Looking Through The Eyes Of Love.’ That song is usually sung with a lot of syrup, but her plaintive reading of the song goes right to its heart. And as I listen to it again after reading the fact that she is blind makes its meaning more poignant. That track alone is everything.

Buon Natalie (Music Thoughts: A Little Bit Of Christmas, Natalie Williams)

1511488273_folderNever judge an album by its cover. I thought that Natalie Williams’ Holiday album ‘A Little Bit of Christmas’ was a country album, but as it turns out, it is a jazzy one. Williams is an up and coming jazz singer in the United Kingdom and she has already gotten a bit of acclaim. This album will steer her to get more. Williams has a jazz vibe in her singing, and has a soulful voice that is apparent in these tracks. When I heard her ‘O Holy Night,’ for example, I couldn’t help but pay attention – the high notes did not seem forced. And I actually liked her original songs: ‘What Does Santa Get For Christmas,’ was pretty catchy, and there’s a welcome sauciness in ‘Xmas X My XXX.’  All in all, you don’t get a sense of sameness when you are listening to the album, and for me, that is always very welcome.

A Champian Christmas (Music Thoughts: Christmas with Champian, Champian Fulton)

3405777daf08613a25ed15ae15fceb37How about a jazzy Christmas album? I’ve got a fine new one this year, by Champian Fulton. I don’t really know who she is, but she sounds pretty damn good. She swings like a chandelier, and the arrangements reflect her ability. I really love her lively takes on these Christmas ditties, especially in tracks like ‘White Christmas,’ and ‘Winter Wonderland.’ She has a very distinct personality, mixing in some Mexican influences in her interpretations, and indeed, even putting a Spanish song, ‘Gracias I Dios’ in the album. What results is really an enchanting Holiday album, brimmed with some enchantment and musicality.

Burr It’s Cold Outside (Music Thoughts: Simply Christmas, Leslie Odom Jr)

91O22YvHYWL._SL1500_-744x744When October goes, can Christmas be far behind? Well, at least Holiday music is here, and here I am listening to my first one for 2017. I have always been a lover of Holiday music, but old age has made me perhaps a bit cynical about it. But still, I still get a thrill when it is fresh and new, and Leslie Odom Jr’s new album ‘Simply Christmas’ made my heart skip a bit.

This is a smooth jazz album and is probably best when played to with a few cocktails, because Odom Jr’s soulful renditions inspire more contemplation. I like the melancholy ‘Merry Christmas Darling,’ and he can even make ‘The Christmas Song’ sound fresh (or close to it) and his ‘Ave Maria’ is right on mark. The album can at times be too mellow – I listened to it straight through once and fell asleep. But with your coffee and whiskey, this album is good company.