Nobody makes records like these. Nobody else has the musicologist knack for bringing back the best music of the twenties through fifties while making it all sound so vital. That’s why every Catherine Russell release is a true treasure. And, for this highly sought back-up singer, this is her fifth release as a leader, none before the age of fifty. The daughter of famed bandleader Luis Russell, who arranged for Louis Armstrong, and the late Carline Ray, noted swing jazz guitarist; Catherine expands from a 5 piece to a 10 piece ensemble here. It’s almost as if you’re hearing a streamlined Duke or Count orchestra.
Catherine’s voice is by turns smooth, powerful, gutsy, sultry, and yes, versatile to suit her carefully chosen material. For example she does her dad’s, “Lucille”, Duke Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart”, and Fats Wallers’ “Strange As It Seems”; among others. The album has a bluesy feel to it, largely due to her simmering take on Johnny Otis’s “Aged and Mellow” with the refrain (‘I like my men like I like my whiskey/Aged and mellow’.) The band has plenty of room to stretch out and Dan Block is especially strong on clarinet. Covering both obscure and familiar tunes, the disc closes, appropriately, with a beautiful rendition of “I Cover the Waterfront”. The bar is set higher for each of Cat’s releases and she continues to exceed expectations.
– Jim Hynes