Second album from singer Laird Jackson...
Kathryn Shackleton 2002
New York-based Laird Jackson's second solo album, Touched, features a long list of East Coast jazz thoroughbreds like trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, pianist Bruce Barth and baritonist Gary Smulyan. It's a sensitively produced album of a half dozen of her own compositions plus a handful of neo-standards from Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Bill Withers and Donovan.
What's notable about Touched, besides Laird Jackson's soulful vocal yoga, (she has the ability to hold notes effortlessly, and to stretch into uncompromising vocal positions) is the contrast between the brilliance of most of the covers on the album and the mediocrity of some of Jackson's own songs. Her voice is mightier than her pen, and her lightweight lyrics are given heavyweight vocal treatment; a combination which often doesn't work. When her magnificent voice and a magnificent song come together, though, you have to sit up and take notice!
Of Laird's own compositions, "Consuela Mi" comes off the best. It's a heart-rasping, pseudo-Cuban slow dance, in which Jackson approaches some of the energy and passion of the great Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa. Also notable is "Yet Still", a soaring a capella spiritual, fit to be sung in an empty football field, hand-on-heart, at Thanksgiving. These two tracks aside, though, Jackson expresses emotion better through other peoples songs.
"Lonely House", written by Kurt Weill and the poet Langston Hughes, is a Blair Witch of a track. The scene is set by the tolling of Bruce Barth's prepared piano and a distant sound of static - and the buzz of a bluebottle, creaks, groans and exhalations are fed into the mix. Through this tense but restrained soundscape Laird jumps octaves effortlessly and languidly, and bends notes almost to breaking point with an intensity which quickly turns to devil-may-care nonchalance. Marvin Sewell's guitar solo takes us briefly to the comfort zone, as Laird depicts the psychotic, then the paranoid and the pleasured. Untheatrical and genuinely eerie, "Lonely House" demands repeated playings.
Jackson gives Joni Mitchell's "Tin Angel" a similar melancholic treatment, curving her notes in and out of a beautiful, spacious arrangement. Barth's understated piano and Steve Wilson's airy soprano shore up Laird's vocals, as she moves from the softest, clearest whisper to a cathartic soaring and back again.
Laird Jackson is blessed with a formidable vocal technique which makes a brilliant song and breaks a mediocre one. Touched has its mediocre moments, but the brilliant ones make it worthwhile.
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