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Soul Express Album of the Month

June 2005

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Sistah Girl's Lament

(US FVC Records, 2004)
As a vocalist, no other female singer has impressed me more than Tracy Hamlin in the last ten years (especially on her reading of My Funny Valentine), but now I'm proud to introduce you yet another brilliant female voice, Raye Jones. Her debut release Sistah Girl's Lament opens with another truly stunning reading of an old Richard Rodgers-co-written standard, My Favorite Things. I've actually learnt to like this song as Luther Vandross' fantastic version (from his This Is Christmas album), and there's certainly nothing wrong with Carmen Lundy's full-bloodied reading (from her Self Portrait CD from 1996), either. Still, this swinging version by Raye is sheer brilliance and overwhelming. Dennis Fortune on piano is just amazing, playing a solo that is described as "supercalifragilistic-expialidoocious" in the liner notes - well I am not sure if this word from Mary Poppins is very descriptive of the solo, but I do know that Fortune's solo is one of the most impressive piano solos I've heard all my life! However, the most arresting part of this track is Raye's voice, which is really thrilling, and leaves one truly speechless. You have to hear her by yourself - if you go to site, you'll find a Windows Media Player file of the whole track.

While My Favorite Things was a straight-forward jazz number, Raye Jones is definitely not only a jazz singer, and the next songs on the album indisputably demonstrate that she can also sing soul ballads in a more than impressive way. Never Can Say Goodbye is a wonderful, mature reading of the Clifton Davis song (performed by Jackson 5, Isaac Hayes, Gloria Gaynor), but even better is Raye's self-written tribute to Phyllis Hyman, a superb ballad titled A Song for Phyllis Hyman. It is laced by Fostina Dixon's elegant soprano saxophone, the actual melody is classy in the extreme, and Raye's vocal performance really has much the same vigorous, deep colour as on Phyllis' singing.

Another masterpiece is the title track of the CD, Sistah Girl's Lament. Raye herself describes this track as her favourite song on the project; the track is a sombre ballad in a classic jazz backdrop. Of the other more jazz-oriented cuts, I have no complaints, either. El DeBarge's All This Love is turned into a rousing upswing performance with a strong bass and piano, plus some truly robust baritone saxophone soloing by Fostina Dixon. I Remember Clifford is an oft-covered jazz ballad Benny Golson wrote for trumpeter Clifford Brown, and on Raye's version Tony Smith colours the background with his trumpet soloing. Raye herself delivers the vocals in a sophisticated, yet passionate way.

Black Coffee is another jazz ballad on which Raye really excels herself. Raye's version of the standard The Shadow of Your Smile starts in an almost too stagnant mood, but then turns into a more lively tone with some piano soloing over the swaying rhythm. If You Believe is a not-so-memorable ballad tune from Broadway musical The Wiz, but the album closes with Raye's absolutely delicious reading of the Marvin Gaye song God Is Love.

I rate Raye Jones in the same category as Carmen Lundy; although both artists are basically jazz singers, their style is so soulful - especially on ballads - that any soul fan who wants to hear profound, mature ballad interpretations in a Phyllis Hyman way, should not overlook this album.
(Rating: 9/10)
-Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express, editor

Albums of the Month in 2004
Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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