Is there any doubt that Mandy Barnett is our Judy Garland? Hers is a voice filled with extraordinary empathy, so much so that the listener is forced to share in her joy and her pain, her love and her life. That said, who better than, on her eighth gem of an album, to take what Billie Holiday attempted to do on 1958’s Lady In Satin and make it right this time. Billie, in ’58, was a shell of her former self. That ’58 album is painful to listen to. Try as she might, her voice was ravaged enough that one cannot listen to it without flinching.
Sixty-three years later, here comes Mandy, who started her career aping Patsy Cline, to flesh out those same songs with warmth, grandeur and real chops. Every Star Above (Melody Place/BMG) is also the last recorded work of legendary Count Basie arranger Sammy Nestico who passed at 96 but who artfully, creatively and brilliantly arranged this 60-piece orchestra.
Highlights include “I’m A Fool To Want You” (Mandy even ups the Sinatra version) and “You’ve Changed” (Mandy makes the 1941 Dick Haymes original sound like cardboard). But you could argue for any one of these 10 gems as the highlight.
Hers is one of the great American voices.
During the lost year of 2020, what can creative musicians do but create? Keep Movin’ On (Terraplane Records), by Bill Toms and Hard Rain, is an uplifting reminder that we’ve endured, we still have our sanity and there are, indeed, good times ahead. Singer/Songwriter Toms, who started out in ’87 as a member of the Pittsburgh’s Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers, has put out nine records but none as honest, soulful, inspirational and technically amazing as this one. From Tennessee to Italy, band members phoned in their parts—including the super talented Will Kimbrough as well as The Soulville Horns—to create a quilt of sound, harvested into the fruit of their passion, dedication and talent. Sure sounds good! Highlights include “Man’s Soul Is On Trial,” written just prior to the election, stressing unity over division, opener “Still Got Love” and closer “American Dreamer.” Bravo!
In 2016, a great soul album by singer/songwriter Will Porter hit Europe like a bomb. Too bad America hardly heard it. Until Now. Tick Tock Tick (Gramofono Sound) features Dr. John, Bettye LaVette and the San Francisco Bay Area Horns as produced in New Orleans by the legendary Crescent City producer Wardell Quezergue who died at 81 shortly thereafter. With members of The Meters, Yellow Jackets and Louisiana Philharmonic Strings, this gem has a kick-ass version of the Delaney & Bonnie hit “When The Battle Is Over” as well as scintillating covers of Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” and Ike Turner’s “I’m Blue (Shoo Be Do).” Porter, out of West Virginia, hit Cali running to become the Musical Director for Mary Wells, Percy Sledge, The Shirelles and Billy Preston. The man knows his soul. And what a voice! Hipsters would be well-advised to also get his Happy album, guaranteed to put a smile on your face.