First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by John Metzger
Tue February 5, 2008, 08:30 AM CST
Catherine Russell is blessed with a powerful voice, and unlike many rising stars, she knows how to use it. She doesn’t try to cram an onslaught of notes into a space that is too small, and she sings from her heart and soul rather than from her mind. It helps, of course, that she has been floating around the industry for years, supporting the likes of David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Jackson Browne. Throughout her sophomore set Sentimental Streak, she retreats from some of the more contemporary tunes — such as Sam Cooke’s You Were Made for Me and the Grateful Dead’s New Speedway Boogie — that had dotted the landscape of her debut Cat. In the process, she freed herself to focus upon the old-time jazz and blues songs that she undoubtedly has heard since her youth. To her credit, the resulting affair is decidedly more focused.
If Sentimental Streak sounds, at times, as if it is steeped in the eclecticism of New Orleans tradition, it’s because Russell’s father Luis, for a few years at least, led the band that backed Louis Armstrong, one of the Crescent City’s greatest legends. Using an arrangement that was conceived by her dad, the album appropriately opens with the brassy swing of So Little Time (So Much to Do). Elsewhere, Russell delivers a wonderful rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s New Orleans, and although it long ago became a timeless standard, she wastes no time in claiming it as her own.
Even so, there’s more to Sentimental Streak than initially meets the eye. Curiously, Russell tapped Larry Campbell, an alumnus of Bob Dylan’s band, to produce the affair, and he, in turn, assembled a stellar cast of characters — Ollabelle’s Byron Isaacs and trumpeter Steven Bernstein, among them — to support her vocals. At times, though, they subtly steal some of her thunder. The biggest problem with Sentimental Streak, however, is that the sounds of a distant era are executed with such extraordinary precision that it begins to feel as if the endeavor’s sole purpose is simply to pay tribute to the past through replication rather than reinterpretation. As impeccable as the music happens to be, there is, to put it bluntly, too much reverence contained in the approach that Russell and Campbell took, so much so that even the pair of new tunes that she tackles — her own Luci and accordion player Rachelle Garniez’s Broken Nose — blend in a little too neatly with the rest of the set.
For all of the subtle twists and turns that are given to the material, no true risks are taken anywhere on Sentimental Streak. Its arrangements are lovely, and Russell’s vocals effortlessly conjure moods that exhibit crushing heartache (South to a Warmer Place), feisty determination (Oh Yes, Take Another Guess), and playful sexuality (My Daddy’s Got a Brand New Way to Love). Yet, it also doesn’t add anything to or distinguish itself from the long line of recordings and performances by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, and Pearl Bailey from which it was constructed.
Of Further Interest...
Sentimental Streak is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box