It’s impressive to hear the class and character Cassandra has injected into these...
Kathryn Shackleton 2008-06-06
Cassandra Wilson is best known for singing originals and unusual covers, but standards are where she started. Loverly was produced in a rented house in her Mississippi hometown, with assembled invited musician friends who got down to the business of recording then and there.
It’s impressive to hear the class and character Cassandra has injected into these 20th century songs. With the help of Yoruba percussionist Lekan Babalola she knits West African rhythms into stripped-down arrangements, featuring Lonnie Plaxico (bass), Jason Moran (piano) and Herlin Riley (drums).
Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most is a true eye-opener. Cassandra's voice is so deep and resonant it's tangible, and she tells her story of loneliness backed only by Marvin Sewell's silvery acoustic guitar. He reappears playing ethereal slide guitar on Black Orpheus, supported by Cuban-sounding percussion and piano, under Cassandra's whispered, desolate vocals.
The Very Thought of You, a sublime duet with guest bassist Reginald Veal, features a rhythmic solo and sinuous vocals, but Wouldn’t It Be Loverly is a strange choice. It's polished off skilfully enough, but lacks the spark of originality of other songs on the album.
It is the up-tempo tracks that succeed in turning sparks to flame here. A traddish version of Lover Come Back To Me smears Cassandra's mellifluous vocals across Jason Moran’s wild piano playing and Arere, the only original on the album, is a frenetic fusion of unstoppable, cascading rhythms. On Caravan too, hectic percussion tumbles over jumbled piano and guitar, with Cassandra's voice at the other side of the room one moment and eerily close the next.
The Mississippi house feels so much a part of this recording that it deserves to be credited on the sleeve. Cassandra sounds as though she heads to the kitchen in Caravan, then pops out of the bathroom in The Very Thought of You, before looming up close and husky. The occasional word with the band, a slightly off-key entry to a chorus and the laugh that follows it are all left in the mix, making this recording so relaxed and personal that it feels like a live set in your own living room. And wouldn’t that be loverly?