Catherine Russell: Alone Together

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Catherine Russell

Alone Together

(Dot Time Records)

February 10, 2019

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

If I had to come up with a single adjective for Catherine Russell, it would be authentic. The artist inevitably offers numbers with which few are familiar. Arrangements reflect vintage, the phrasing respects mindset. This doesn’t mean the music is dated, but rather that Russell puts us into the room with the song’s origins.

“Early in the Morning” (Louis Jordan/Dallas Bartley/Leo Hickman) swings in with dropped g’s; this is the kind of cheeky, rhythmic blues that makes you chair dance.

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Jon-Erik Kellso’s trumpet is deceptively nonchalant. Fellow horns punctuate; Russell is flinty. Yeah eh eh eh and Whoo oo come naturally. “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” (Louis Jordon/Billy Austin) insinuates. The vocal is relaxed, saucy. Foot taps, head bobs. The trumpet taffy-pulls notes, horns almost wah-wah. Mark Shane’s piano dances underneath. Russell’s last “true” spirals. It’s flat-out cool.

“You Can’t Pull the Wool Over My Eyes” (Milton Ager/Charles Newman/Murray Mencher) (“you can’t get away telling these lies”) is a pugnacious, up-tempo tune with fine jitterbug piano and teasing horns. “I Wonder” (Cecil Gant) finds Russel in deep melancholy sigh mode. Down, yet not out. The song sways. The trumpet and guitar sound like slow parading burlesque. Nat King Cole’s classic “I’m an Errand Girl(Boy) for Rhythm (Send Me)” is pumped up boogie with every staccato lyric precise. Strings gyrate like hummingbirds.

Where else would you hear “He May Be Your Dog, But He’s Wearin’ My Collar?” (“All day long you treat him right/But you can find him at my house every night/He maybe your dog, but he’s wearing my collar/How you gonna keep him home?”) Russell’s delivery is mouthy perfection. You can almost see the other woman’s face as the singer unrepentantly faces her down. A loose-limbed soft-shoe, the number is sheer, sinuous innuendo. Terrific.

“You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew” (Johnny Burke/Harold Spina)—”Not the only tea leaf in the tea/However, I’m convinced, completely, fully, firmly convinced/You’re the only one for me!”—manages to shake a finger and perambulate at the same time. One eyebrow is musically raised (“I loves ya, I loves ya baby”). This lady knows who she is and what she’s got.

“When Did You Leave Heaven?” (Richard Whiting/Walter Bullock) exudes warmth. A slow dance with the couple barely moving to a languid, sexy guitar, it features subtly rippling vibrato. “If I kissed you/Would it be a sin?”  she sings haltingly, savoring the thought. Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky?)” and the Harry Warren/Al Dubin “I Only Have Eyes for You” are mellow, sentimental, direct, timeless foxtrots. The vocal is earnest.

Catherine Russell is earnest. No matter what the point of view, she imbues lyrics with credibility, personalizing connection.

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Pedigree aside, the performer has always seemed an old soul who appreciates music written before her time. She uniquely “gets it.” Russell has an extraordinary vocal instrument and a consistent taste level one rarely encounters in any genre. A splendid CD.

The musicians on this recording constitute a dream band: Matt Munisteri (MD/guitar), Mark Shane (piano), Tal Ronen (bass), Mark McLean (drums/percussion), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), John Allred (trombone), Evan Arntzen (tenor sax), Dana Lyn (violin), Eddy Malave (viola), and Marika Hughes (cello).

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.