Wilson’s husky contralto is a treat throughout.
Jon Lusk 2009-04-29
After cutting her teeth during the 1980s with the experimental M-Base collective, Cassandra Wilson began a series of groundbreaking albums for Blue Note, starting with Blue Light 'Til Dawn in 1993. Since that luminous debut, she’s often explored unlikely-seeming connections between jazz, folk, blues and more mainstream pop, and it’s the latter that this fine compilation focuses on, just in time for the label's 70th anniversary.
With her penchant for note-bending and stretching, novel phrasing and impeccable timing, Wilson’s husky contralto is a treat throughout. Apart from the odd interpretation that lacks as much flavour as the original or best-known version, or fails to put an original stamp on it, these covers work well. Cindy Lauper's Time After Time and Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman are perhaps the only songs that don't quite make the grade in that respect. But hey, you may disagree…
Wilson is equally significant for her unusual arrangements, many of which Brandon Ross is responsible for, although the credits on this compilation only reveal his role on electric and steel guitar. The other most noteworthy player is Kevin Breit, whose shimmering resonator guitar, electric guitar and banjo burnish several songs. It's not clear which of these two showers the filigree of harmonics over U2's Love Is Blindness.
Perhaps the most successful transformation is Last Train To Clarksville. Sixties poppets The Monkees' made this an unforgettably effervescent, jangling rush of teenage hormones that's hard to top. Wisely, Wilson doesn't try to compete, instead taking her time to bring out the song's hidden swing with some deliciously playful scatting and groaning, and slyly substituting the phrase ''coffee-flavoured kisses'' with ''coffee-coloured kisses''.
Bob Dylan's Lay, Lady, Lay is another example of her mastery, up there with Nina Simone's re-imaginings of the great folk bard's works; not one, but two acoustic upright bassists add a rubbery rhythmic under-layer to Jeffrey Haynes' expert percussive grooves. And the way Wilson's languid take on Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey gives way to a truly ravishing reading of Neil Young's Harvest Moon – complete with tweeting frog calls – underlines the skilled sequencing of compiler Eli Wolf.