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Radioville: Kate McGarry, “Girl Talk” (Palmetto)

April 5, 2012

My ‘DCB review of the swell new album by a singer I really haven’t cottoned to until now is here.

For those who prefer the voices they hear in their head to mine, here are the words to go with them:

Hi, I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. I have to confess I haven’t been a big fan of the eclectic vocal albums jazz has been inundated with since the great Cassandra Wilson covered the Monkees, Joni Mitchell and Robert Johnson – and then Norah Jones hit it big as a jazz star who didn’t sing any jazz. With rare exception, most of these crossover albums seem caught between genres.

I include among them some of Kate McGarry’s past efforts, which led me to believe I was never going to like her as much as some people do. But her new album, Girl Talk, completely won me over. McGarry describes it as her first straight-ahead album in years, meaning there are no rock guitars or voice loops or Bjork songs. But the real departure here is the way she threads together a smart assortment of standards with her fresh outlook, free and easy spirit and, excuse the word, cerebral quality.

With a band including her husband Keith Ganz on guitar and Gary Versace on piano and organ, McGarry sets out to celebrate the womanly strength and swinging resilience of the female singers she loves: Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Sheila Jordan, Brazilian great Elis Regina. What makes the album such a winner is the way McGarry personalizes those influences.

Taking a cue from Betty Carter, she turns Neil Hefti and Bobby Troup’s “Girl Talk” on its ear with her bluesy reading and casts dreamy, elastic shadows with “The Man I Love.” I also like her harmonizing with a deep-diving Kurt Elling on Dori Caymmi’s “O Contador” and the casual, reflective quality she brings to “Charade.”

And if you’re going to be listening to a song with “wonderful world” in the title, I strongly recommend the one McGarry swings through, “It’s a Wonderful World,” once covered by Peggy Lee, not the overexposed “Wonderful World” sadly associated with Satchmo. With a review of Kate McGarry’s Girl Talk, which drops next week, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville and subscribe to my blog, jazzespress.

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