Music » Record Reviews

Dee Dee Bridgewater Honors the Memphis in her Soul

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As a jazz singer, Dee Dee Bridgewater, born Denise Eileen Garrett in Memphis, has always overlapped with pop genres, having earned kudos on Broadway, played Billie Holiday in European productions of Lady Day, and recorded a duet with Ray Charles. Thus, it should come as no great surprise that her latest, Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready, is a straight up soul record. At the same time, it's full of the subtle command of her craft that has kept her working with such giants as Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, and Dizzy Gillespie since the early '70s.

The soul angle, as she explains in the liner notes, springs from her father's roots in Memphis, where he once taught music at Mannassas High School. Though she was born here, the family moved to Michigan in her toddler days. But Memphis still loomed large in her childhood, due to the long reach of Memphis station WDIA. She listened to it religiously and internalized the soul hits of the day.

How appropriate, then, that she pay homage to the city of her birth with a batch of classic covers. Recorded at Royal Studios, with some of Memphis' greatest players in the band and Boo Mitchell co-producing, this album embodies a timeless soul sound. It even features the very same “electric bongo” sound of the original “I Can't Stand the Rain,” played by Mitchell this time around, as well as Charles Hodges reprising his stunning organ work.

It could be argued that Bridgewater adheres a bit too closely to the original arrangements, but she brings her own personality and interpretive skills to each song, as any jazz singer of her caliber would. And at times the band stretches far beyond the sound of the original recordings. “Don't Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog,” which could be reduced to mere nostalgia in other hands, get fresh, swinging settings from the band. Bridgewater makes them her own.

The album is full of Memphis talent, including Kirk Whalum, and oozes the warmth and punch of Royal Studios. But it's Bridgewater who really evokes Memphis here, reclaiming her Southern roots with panache.

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