WBGO Radar

Catherine Russell: Harlem on My Mind

Catherine Russell - Harlem on My Mind album cover

Catherine Russell is a rarity. She can sing a story like no one else. Her song investigations on her sixth album, "Harlem On My Mind" bring her, and us, to the front row of Harlem's Apollo Theatre for the history and excitement, delivered with her full blown voice radiating fearless power to the back row, like on the Clarence Williams shouter "Swing Brother, Swing!", or a hushed affection on "The Very Thought Of You". This record is full up with the great African American Songbook.

There's a gin joint joy naughtily played out on Clarence Williams' "You've Got The Right Key But The Wrong Keyhole", missing none of the spirit of Louis Armstrong or Virginia Liston.

Alongside special guest, saxophonist Fred Staton, Russell makes the plaintive "Don't Take Your Love From Me" her own.

As Catherine says, "This record is about not forgetting your roots. The album is comprised of songs from artists who played The Apollo in Harlem, where all African American artists of note appeared."

She carries us through the 12 tunes, visiting the homes of Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, Etta James and Dinah Washington with such spirit. You can reimagine the songwriting world's of Fats Waller, Benny Carter or Irving Berlin's title track.

Andy Farber's arranging provide such a realistic palette for Russell to paint.

The musicianship is outstanding: Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronen, drummer Mark McLean, trumpeters Jon-Erik Kellso and Alphonso Horne, trombonist John Allred, saxophonists Mark Lopeman, Andy Farber and Dan Block.

Little Willie John recorded Joe Seneca's "Talk To Me, Talk To Me" in the late 50's. Cat's chat here speaks new soulful thoughts on words of love heard so many times before.

"Harlem On My Mind" is Catherine Russell's sixth album, and her finest. It comes out September 9th from Jazz Village Records. Whether the lights are bright or low, be the first to know what's on her mind is a special find.

Gary Walker / Morning Jazz

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