Every week we get a fresh new list of great music for Tuesday Reviewsday. This week music journalist Steve Hochman stopped by and gave us his take on three new albums from Inara George, the Reverend Shawn Amos and Ella Fitzgerald.
Album: Ella at Zardi’s
More than six decades ago, on February 2, 1956, Ella Fitzgerald took the stage at Hollywood Boulevard's Zardi’s Jazzland.
The show was two-and-a-half weeks into a multi-week run, coming just as she’d signed to the new Verve Records label, created by producer Norman Granz in large part to spotlight Fitzgerald’s considerable talents. Granz recorded the show, but it was left in the vaults as the artist and label put full attention on launching her essential, comprehensive, definitive series of “Song Book” collections.
So now, capping off releases marking the 2017 centennial of her birth, we get a real treat.
The performance reveals an artist already having had many peaks now on the verge of moving to even greater heights. But even without that context it’s a delightful ride, the full 21 songs, in brilliant sound, capturing every swoop and slide of her incomparable vocal artistry, starting with the 1926 song “It All Depends on You,” a hit for Doris Day, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, and recorded by dozens more, but never before released by her.
Album: Dearest Everybody
A song cycle about self discovery, about reckoning with one’s past, one’s legacy, starting with something she’s never before grappled with in song, at least explicitly: being the daughter of Lowell George, leader of the band Little Feat and an essential figure in the ‘70s L.A. rock scene, who died in 1979 at age 34 when she was just a child. His wake, which she attended, fell on her fifth birthday. But here, in the first lines of the first song, “Young Adult,” she spells it out:
“I was the daughter of my father, I was the color of a half lit moon.”
Well, the light is with her. She brings it to every song she sings here, every alleyway of life she explores, some in great need of it. It’s something that has marked all her work, in solo albums, collaborations with composer-arranger Van Dyke Parks, her Bird and the Bee partnership with producer-musician Greg Kurstin and the charming Living Sisters with Eleni Mandell, Becky Stark and Alex Lilly.
On “Dearest Everybody,” her first solo album since 2009, to be released in January, she carries that light with confidence into matters most intimate, the balance of life with loss in particular.
All of the songs commemorate deaths of people close to her, and it’s loving and heartbreaking in the best ways, her lilting melodies carried by her clear, unaffected voice and an almost easily creative command of a sweeping array of classic pop forms, shaped expertly with longtime producer Mike Andrews.
And if in “Young Adult” she gave herself permission to open doors of her life, in “Release Me,” a wistfully romantic ballad that could have been from the 1950s, she does the same for her mother, taking her voice as she grapples with grief all these years later.
The album comes out in January, but already she’s shining the light between the joy and the sorrow.
The Reverend Shawn Amos
Album: The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down
As we stand on the verge of 2018, the Reverend Shawn Amos tried to make some sense of what we experienced in a confounding 2017. It’s tough going, but with some bluesy fire he has a good go of it, holding on to some level of faith in humanity, but knowing that we have a lot of work to do to get back on track.
The groove and his tone draw on some classics of socially conscious artists: a bit Staples Singers, a bit Curtis Mayfield, a bit Marvin Gaye. There’s a righteousness to it — he took the Reverend title as a performer with purpose — but it’s preachy in the best sense of the word. And it fulfills what L.A. native Amos — his dad was cookie man Wally “Famous” Amos — has been building toward since he moved from successful music business exec to focus full time on his own music a while back.
The full album, “The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down,” is due for February release. This single is a tantalizing preview, looking back on the year but with a mind on building a better future.