Elizabeth ShepherdLinus 270155
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****1/2

I listen to a lot of recordings by jazz singers, and though there might be a bit of difference among them, at times they can all seem to sound alike. So it was with no particular hope that I put this one in the player and sat down to listen. What I heard was a pure breath of fresh air from Canada, an album so original and appealing that it seemed to blow all the cobwebs out of the corners of my listening room.

Elizabeth Shepherd is no unknown -- her albums of original compositions have been nominated for many awards. But this time, pregnant and short on time to write new songs, she covered tunes by others, both standards and less-well-known compositions -- songs she’s loved throughout her life. To say that she brings new vision and insight to them would be an understatement.

The album opens with Cole Porter’s "Love for Sale," which is introduced with doo-wop overdubs, the bass and drums entering soon after. Shepherd’s entrance is sultry sass clothed in radiant innocence. She plays with the rhythm just enough to be interesting but not enough to push the listener away. Her voice is sort of like Rickie Lee Jones’s with a touch of Diana Krall, yet she’s not at all like either of those singers. She seems sure of every note, yet maintains a feeling of spontaneity. She also plays killer keyboards -- piano, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer.

My favorite track is "Feeling Good," by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Lord knows this song has had enough exposure on audition shows, on which everyone seems to sing it as a nail-the-top-note anthem. Shepherd sings it as a more gentle yet very rhythmic expression of joy, reveling in the new day dawning. "It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life" obviously has new and special meaning for her.

The beautiful "Lonely House," by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes, has been done before, though not to death, and Shepherd’s version is stellar. If one can turn a mournful moan into music, she achieves that here. Johnny Mercer’s "Midnight Sun" is sung as an upbeat bossa nova. Where most singers would select "Summertime" from the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Shepherd has chosen "Buzzard Song" and made it into an eerie and effective set piece. And the final song, Duke Ellington’s "Prelude to a Kiss," sung with Denzal Sinclaire, is given a haunting reading accompanied by only bass and trumpet -- a shining example of "less is more."

Rewind was recorded at several studios in Toronto, but mostly at Canterbury Music, where Jeremy Darby was the chief engineer (Shepherd herself was the producer). The sound is almost ideal for the music: Shepherd’s voice sounds clean and clear at the center of the soundstage, her vocal overdubs skillfully blended into the mix. The instruments have good body and focus, and none ever sounds too prominent or buried; they’re just right.

Here’s some more good news:Shepherd is not a straight jazz singer; she also draws from the pop and blues genres. So this album is for everyone. I can’t imagine anyone not being beguiled by its charms, and amazed by its creator’s inventiveness and virtuosity.

. . . Rad Bennett