Editors' pick

Catherine Russell

Jazz
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Editorial Review

Russell's nostalgic family affair
By Mike Joyce
Friday, Apr. 13, 2012

Vocalist Catherine Russell is almost always in the mood to woo or be wooed on "Strictly Romancin', " an engaging mix of standards and novelties that reach back to the dawn of the Jazz Age. Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn are among the artists who inspire Russell's consistently soulful and sure-footed interpretations.

If the veteran singer sounds at ease with these songs, that's because she is. Her father, pianist and bandleader Luis Russell, was a close associate of Armstrong's, and her mother, Carline Ray, is an alumna of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. So this album is something of a family affair, focusing on songs that never have lost their romantic allure and rhythmic zest.

Picking favorites isn't easy, but some songs are almost impossible to shake after hearing them so evocatively arranged. Retro excursions are seldom as much fun as listening to Russell reinvigorate "I'm Checkin' Out, Goom'bye," an Ellington-Strayhorn delight. The same goes for Mary Lou Williams's "Satchel Mouth Baby."

Supported by a seasoned lineup, Russell also warmly personalizes the classic pop ballad "I'm in the Mood for Love," turns torchy and blue on Ivory Joe Hunter's "Don't Leave Me," and salutes Sister Rosetta Tharpe with the gospel-charged "He's All I Need." The last features Russell's mom singing harmony - a nice touch.