It's not every day you'd call an album of Beatles covers daring, but there's no other way to describe Marin jazz singer Daria's adventurous interpretations of 10 tunes by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
On "Strawberry Fields Forever: Songs by the Beatles," her third album, Daria and co-producer Sam Bevan deconstruct familiar Lennon/McCartney classics and reassemble them in bold and inventive arrangements.
A longtime backup singer for the late Dan Hicks, she sings with unself-conscious abandon, showcasing her extraordinary range, breaking through the constraints of the conventional, fearlessly reinventing tunes and melodies.
"Helter Skelter," colored by a psychedelic guitar solo by Matthew Charles Heulitt, and a New Orleans shuffle version of "When I'm Sixty-Four" are punched up by Blood Sweat and Tears-style horn parts that shadow box with Daria's brazen, scat-laced vocals.
"Come Together" and "If I Fell" are re-imagined with Brazilian rhythms and Latin jazz grooves, the latter tune soaring on a Matt Eakle flute solo. "Julia," a lesser-known Lennon song, is faintly recognizable as a bossa-flavored jazz ballad, sounding new and fresh in this fascinating rendition, which Daria spices with some unexpected lyrics in Spanish.
Bevan, playing bass, keyboards and guitar, leads a crack band featuring Jonathan Alford on piano, Fender Rhodes and organ, drummer Deszon Claiborne, guitarist Jean Michel Hure, percussionists Colin Douglas and Michaelle Goerlitz.
A horn section of Henry Hung on trumpet, Mike Rinta on trombone and saxophonist Sheldon Brown is all over this album, giving it a brassy, big band swing. Joseph Cohen's sitar recalls the Beatles' Indian guru period as it opens Daria's rhythmic rendition of the title track. Singers Roberta Donnay and Annie Stocking add assured, tasteful background vocals throughout.
This album is full of surprises, not the least of which is the lone original, "She's Going Home," Daria's nod to Beatles' lyricism. On an album of great songs turned on their heads, it more than holds its own.