Nothing but Love Songs
Birdland, NYC, February 15, 2017
Reviewed by Ron Forman for Cabaret Scenes
Somehow, until I saw the Vince Giordano documentary There’s a Future in the Past, I had never been aware of Catherine Russell. I then saw her in the Lyrics & Lyricists tribute to Harold Arlen. In both the film and in the L&L show, I thought she was spectacular. It was serendipitous that, shortly after discovering her, I got the opportunity to see her perform in her own show at Birdland. Russell was even better than I had anticipated. Her diction is truly superb, as I heard every word she sang in the almost 90-minute show. She has the ability to adjust her voice so that she is able to channel singers as diverse as Ethel Waters and Dinah Washington. She also has the confidence that all great jazz vocalists have to let each member of her marvelous sextet have his opportunity to show off with a solo. Her Valentine week show, Nothing but Love Songs, featured 15 carefully thought-out love songs.
The sextet opened with “Let the Good Times Roll.” Indeed they did, as soon as Russell appeared on stage. She instantly connected with the SRO audience with her opening number “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew.” Her patter between songs was warm and often funny. Each of the numbers worked well because of her exquisite phrasing.
Especially memorable was “Don’t Take Your Love from Me” in which she displayed her pretty, soft voice, a really swinging “Swing, Baby, Swing,” a loud and raucous “The Right Key (but the Wrong Keyhole),” and a particularly beautiful “The Very Thought of You,” including the verse, which I had not heard previously. Russell never stopped moving in her very Billie Holiday-ish “Them There Eyes.” Next to closing was a song that made me feel good all over: “Aged and Mellow.” She closed with a delightful version of Irving Berlin’s homage to Josephine Baker, “Harlem on My Mind.”