Cassandra Wilson: Singing the UN-Standards
Cassandra Wilson turns out hypnotic African beats meets bluesy swing on Loverly. The artist, known for transcending jazz tradition, takes a tune to roads rarely traveled. Here Wilson appears to come back home to her jazz roots. But has she? The collection of mostly standards is truly Un-Standard. The singer inhabits the essence of each melody, making it her own. Her eclectic influences draw from a host of genres to make up the soul of each song, from the rhythmic blues of “Black Orpheus” and West African trance chant “Arere.” “I studied the standards, listening to how other singers put their swing into them.
But it’s hard to do standards. You can’t really sing them until you understand them,” reveals the artist. Sultry vocals float above tunes elegantly but not without bite. Upbeat, blues-infused tracks “Dust My Broom,” “Caravan,” and “St. James Infirmary” groove off the charts. Marvin Sewell’s brilliant acoustic slide guitar is featured on “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” along with playful title track. The self-produced recording is the culmination of a relaxed six day jam session in the singer’s hometown of Mississippi. Not surprisingly, it exudes the warm and immediacy of a live set right down to the finger snaps. Twenty years have past since Wilson covered the American Song Book on Blue Skies. Cassandra Wilson’s career marks a growing talent for unique masterful interpretations. It just keep on getting better and better. Would we expect less?
Eliza Gilkyson: Cowgirl Logic
Armed with a knack for storytelling and cowgirl logic, Eliza Gilkyson’s music evokes the spirit of Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin and Nanci Griffith yet spins a sound distinctly its own. No one would argue that music and blood are intertwined. The daughter of distinguished tunesmith Terry Gilkyson emits music from every pore. Americana, politics, spiritual wanderings and down home playfulness all live within Gilkyson’s visceral lyrics. From the gritty to the sublime, her chameleon sound always stays true to its poetic heart. “The job that I do with music makes me feel hopeful. I find comfort in the warm bodies of those that are doing the same kind of self inventory,” explains Gilkyson. Since signing onto Red House Records in 2000, the songstress is a force to be reckoned with. Finally, Gilkyson is beginning to get the recognition she so richly deserves with an induction into the Austin Music Hall of Fame in 2003, a 2005 Grammy nomination for Land of Milk and Honey for Best Contemporary Folk Album and successive awards after Paradise Hotel’s release in 2006.
Her latest Beautiful World, celebrates the joy as well as suffering of our loggerhead existence. Songs are stark, vulnerable yet soothing at the same time. The sweet guitar twang of “Emerald Street” is an innocent send up to love, a nice contrast to the title track’s chanting ballad. The album pendulates between folk, rock and pop and even jazz in an organic way which is perhaps Gilkyson’s evolution as a songwriter. “I really wrote outside my usual,” states Gilkyson. “For many years I disciplined myself to be a streamline of modern folk…On [Beautiful World], the songs were really asking me to step outside of that a little bit more and bring in different instrumentations of rock. We just wanted to let the songs be what they were.”
The artist’s expose of the derailed American dream on “The Great Correction” is done with a gripping honesty seldom heard: “people round here don’t know what it means/to suffer at the hands of our american dreams/they turn their backs on the grisly scenes/traced to the privileged sons/they got their god they got their guns/got their armies and the chosen ones/ but we’ll all be burnin in the same big sun/when the great correction comes.” It’s refreshing to see the underdog take center stage here. The aforementioned track is by far the most thought provoking song on Beautiful World. Gilkyson states,”What I wanted to do on this record is look at the big picture and how does this effect us as communities, as countries, as individuals” An example of the big picture the songwriter refers to is the dramatic shift our global economy will undergo with the expiration of fossil fuel in the next 50 years. “Before this, individualism has really been the height of technological achievement, separate expression. I think we’ve taken that as far as we can go and that we are now at the point we’ve got to go back to communal living,” says Gilkyson. Ultimately, it’s Gilkyson’s heartfelt passion for a harmonic existence that shines through her lyrics and gives hope to us all.