Grammy-winning artist Cassandra Wilson needs no formal introduction since she has already achieved so much both in jazz circles and beyond. Her powerful voice can range from a whisper to satin smokiness – from blues to interpretative jazz – and she offers a radically fresh take on a series of well known pop songs on this latest release Closer To You - The Pop Side to be released April 7 on Blue Note records.
Wilson has been named the top female jazz singer of the year multiple times by Downbeat magazine (as well as more recently earning Best Jazz Vocal Album for Loverly in 2008) but her style cannot be confined to this one genre since she is drawn to a broad spectrum of music including, interestingly, folk and the music of the sixties which she totally shapes into something new.
The opening track Love is Blindness is an intelligent and intuitive cover of the U2 song, seductive and brilliantly arranged – the guitar work is especially understated and the perfect vehicle for Wilson’s vocals. On this track, Cassandra’s delivery is a pleasing cross of Nina Simone meets Sade – which is not to suggest that she is heavily borrowing at all. Everything here is vibrant and very much her own and her interpretation never slopes into sleepy music territory. Instead, it’s a promising indication to what else is coming on the album.
Most unusual track choice and most surprising end result has to be Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time . This song is slowed down and has an elegance imparted to it that elevates it way out of the realm of pop – Cassandra’s sincere vocals add dignity and impressive depth a la Joni Mitchell or Oleta Adams.
I Can’t Stand the Rain is probably one of my all time favourite songs and I have sought out multiple versions to compare over the years so I was extremely excited to hear what Cassandra Wilson would do with it. (Ann Peebles’ version is the best known, but there have been others from Eruption to Missy Elliot). With wistful, pain-twisting phrasing Cassandra injects a whole lotta Delta to achieve a mournful, wistful blues effect and thus creates a totally unique sound – I loved it. Listen up too for the series of swamp-infused guitar riffs that deek in and out at all the right moments. Basically, this song is on fi-ah …
The title track Closer To You originally recorded by The Wallflowers becomes much more earnest and melodic in Wilson’s interpretation – certainly, classier and more mature – and the arrangement could not be better suited for the song. Smooth orchestral touches are present but not overdone – they appear briefly and intermittently with the sole purpose of seamlessly enhancing Wilson’s delivery. Superb jazzy song that is now a firm favourite of mine. As an aside, I would love to hear Cassandra Wilson do something with an Elvis Costello composition such as I Want You which would be well matched to her expressive, emotive delivery.
If you want the perfect record for date night, elegant luncheons, small gatherings or just to illustrate what excellent taste you really have, you need to seek out this cd at once. Cassandra Wilson is an artist whose time is here and Closer to You - The Pop Side will hopefully herald her talent to a much broader audience.