Singer Libby York's fifth album, and first after her 2014 release "Memoir", is an intimate and intensive affair, with just guitar and bass (and drums on four tracks) spread over 12 songs. And it suits her really well since her poignant and lithe vibrato shines throughout the set, starting with an elegant and gently swinging "Hit The Road To Dreamland". Guitarist Randy Napoleon, who has worked for Freddy Cole for more than a dozen years, and master bassist Rodney Whitaker, one of Dianne Reeves' favorite accompanist, both twirl around Libby's voice and also set their own course on this, and most of the other tunes here as well. And she gets easily conversational on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Estrada Branca" ("This Happy Madness").
I think she sounds like a mix of Chris Connor with her swinging coolness and Carol Sloane with her unequivocally swinging phrasing, and also Shirley Horn with her innate intonation on the fast-paced "Mountain Greenery". I've always adored "Throw It Away", written by the heavily missed Abbey Lincoln. Libby studied with the legendary singer and also spent time with her outside of class. Libby tells the story in sort of a hushed tone, but with enough wisdom and conviction, excellently accompanied, almost caressed by Randy on guitar and supple, but tightly focused drum work by Keith Hall. Great bass solo here as well.
I have to admit as much as I like "Rhode Island Is Famous For You", there is simply just one pivotal version of this Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz classic. I haven't heard anything close to Blossom Dearie's version. There are two songs associated with Rosemary Clooney: on "Still On The Road", the title track of Rosie's 1994 album, Libby exudes a svelte nonchalance and on "When October Goes" by Barry Manilow/Johnny Mercer, she gets nostalgic with a dose of melancholy which just about fits the tune perfectly.
We also get a dose of the cool and funky Peggy Lee on "Moonray" (even though she never recorded this piece) and my personal highlight is the incredibly seductive "An Occasional Man". The way she phrases the words "everything about it is terrific" at the beginning is so adamantly easygoing that it's worth the trip alone here. It's nice to hear "Something Cool" again, a song forever associated to these ears with Carol Sloane, but both Libby and Randy find the perfect casual tone. The whole group close the set with a swinging "It's Love".
The album is now out on Origin Records and don't miss the album release party at Mezzrow in New York with Spike Wilner on piano and Todd Coolman on bass on March 12th (163 W 10th St, two sets).